The Carmichaels Area High School Envirothon team was just a couple hours removed from its victory at the 2018 Pennsylvania Envirothon when it started plotting its next move.
That tenacity and persistence helped the five-member team, representing Greene County, defeat teams from 64 other counties to win the 35th Pennsylvania State Envirothon held May 22-23 at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Snyder County, and Camp Mount Luther in Mifflinburg, Union County.
And they are the qualities that will also benefit the team as they move on to the next stage of competition.
“My teams always work very hard and this team is no different,” said Envirothon coach and Carmichaels high school science teacher Kevin Willis.
“(But) they take this working hard to a whole new level. That’s what it took to break the ceiling. To get this victory is such a huge deal to everybody that’s ever been involved (with Carmichaels Envirothon).”
At the Envirothon, teams compete in a series of field station tests that focus on five topic areas — soils and land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, wildlife and environmental issues. They also deliver oral presentations to judges who evaluate each team on its problem-solving capabilities, oral presentation skills and recommendations to help solve the specific environmental challenge, which relates to a current environmental issue. The 2018 current environmental issue focused on the “Benefits of Grassland and Pastureland Management.”
With a score of 546 out of a possible 600 points, Carmichaels finished the competition with the highest score in the oral presentation component with a perfect 100 points. The team also had the highest station score in forestry, with 97, and wildlife, with 85 out of a possible 100 points.
The team consisting of juniors Jacob Hair, Joey Kurincak, Ryan Swartz and Stephen Zacoi and sophomore Christina Adams brought experience to the table.
Three members — Kurincak, Swartz and Adams — participated on last year’s team that placed third at the state competition.
“It’s a tough competition to prepare for unless you experience it,” said Willis, who competed as a student on the Carmichaels Envirothon team from 1989-91, placing fourth at the state competition his senior year before returning to coach the team at his alma mater 23 years ago.
“They said after last year’s competition that they would win a state title before they graduate, and they followed through and did the work it would take to get to that point.”
Carmichaels finished more than 22 points ahead of second place Palmyra High School of Lebanon County.
Each team member received a $1,250 scholarship from the PA Envirothon. For first place, the team was awarded a wooden plaque made from Pennsylvania hardwoods. For the high station scores, they received a plaque along with field guides and framed wildlife prints.
But the celebration didn’t last long before the students set to work.
With the victory, the team punched its ticket to the 30th NCF-Envirothon set for July 22-28 at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho. The “international” competition will host teams from up to 47 states, eight Canadian provinces, one Canadian territory and two Chinese provinces.
Before the bus arrived back in Carmichaels following the state contest, the students had begun to divvy up content in preparation for Idaho. In the seven weeks since their victory, they have spent their summer vacation consulting with numerous environmental professionals and content specialists on Idahoan landscapes, vegetation, habitats and environmental issues to ready themselves for competition.
“They’re not just saying, ‘Hey, we’re state champs, now we’re going to have some fun.’ They are continuing to put in the hard work to try to win,” Willis said.
The school district will hold a send-off for the Envirothon team at 3 p.m. July 19 in the Carmichaels Area High School auditorium as they depart for the international competition. The community is invited to attend and show support for the students.
While the students hope to bring a victory back to Pennsylvania and are putting in the work to make that possible, Willis hopes the students can appreciate what they’ve accomplished and enjoy the moment.
“I’m telling them, ‘Don’t get so caught up in the competition that you miss the experience,’” he said.
“This is something that we would like to replicate year after year, but it may never happen again. Treat this as a reward for your hard work. Enjoy the experience and take the time to experience it.”
The Carmichaels Envirothon team is a perennial contender at the state competition. This year marks the ninth in a row and the 10th time overall the school has placed in the top 5 at the State Envirothon.
The school qualifies for the state event by winning the Greene County Envirothon, organized by the Greene County Conservation District.