Winning isn't everything -- or so five Homer High School students learned this summer when they traveled to Massachussets for the annual Cannon Envirothon competition.
Overall, the Homer team ranked 46th out of 49 teams in the international environmental contest -- though they did take 17th in the public presentation category.
But just because the teen-agers didn't bring home a blue ribbon, it doesn't mean they didn't learn.
"All in all, they did a pretty good job," said school board member Al Poindexter who accompanied the team back East as a member of the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District. "They represented us pretty well."
Poindexter also is the father of two of the Homer team members -- current senior Cameron and 2001 graduate Jennifer -- but said he would have been involved with the competition even if his kids weren't on the team. The other team members were sophomores Chad McKinney and Lily Land and senior Brad Hayes. The students could not be reached for comment.
The Envirothon is an international competition about environmental issues, Poindexter said. The contest centers around soil, water, wildlife and forestry, as well as a different current issue each year.
This year, the current issue was biodiversity and invasive species.
Students from around North America traveled to the host state, got a tour and learned their way around, then participated in all-day tests on the four general categories of the competition from July 29 to Aug. 4.
The tests included plant and tree identification, as well as identification of animals by fur, skull or sound.
"These kids went from a place where we have five species of trees to there, where they have 120 species," Poindexter said, adding that the students also had never seen many of the animals on the identification list.
The biggest part of the competition dealt with the year's current event issue, though. Students were presented an environmental problem and had 10 hours to come up with a solution and justification.
This year, the problem dealt with a biodiversity grant presented to the Amherst community council. The students listened to a presentation about the grant specifications, then to a series of speeches by special interest groups wanting part of the money.
They then had to put together a plan and justify how it would benefit the issues of biodiversity and invasive species, Poindexter said.
"It's a really complicated problem," he said.
Teams were judged on the completeness and environmentaly sensitivity of their plans, their use of information and knowledge and their presentation.
Public presentation turned out to be Homer's strongest suit.
"We found out a lot of the teams had competed (in Massachussets) before and knew the venue," Poindexter said. "We also found out that most of these kids had up to three years of environmental or agricultural science classes. Our kids just aren't offered those kinds of classes.
"All in all, we did a pretty good job."
The Homer team earned a place at the international competition by placing second in an environmental contest at the state's Future Farmers of America convention in Fairbanks last April.
Most states have a separate competition just for Envirothon, but Alaska hasn't picked that up yet, Poindexter said.
The Homer team placed second at the FFA competition, but the first-place team from Polaris High School in Anchorage couldn't go to the international competition.
"Our kids spent about 40 hours preparing over the summer and then went out and raised $4,000 to get themselves there," Poindexter said.
While he praised the team's efforts, he said the kids themselves quickly decided that they did not know as much as they wanted to about environmental issues.
"An awful lot of people from the Lower 48 are telling us how to take care of our environmental business," Poindexter said. "We wanted to go and demonstrtate that we knew just as much, but we found out we didn't."
That lesson doesn't mean the kids will give up, only that they will work harder.
Homer Community Schools is offering a Natural Resources Technology course after school that the Homer team participants have signed up to take.
Three of the team members also are planning to participate in next year's state competition with hopes of returning to the international contest again.
And, they are keeping in contact with friends made at the contest.
"They made friends all over the country and are communicating via e-mail. If they maintain those contacts, it will be a big benefit to everybody," Poindexter said. "People all over the country can better understand Alaska issues and we can better understand south 48 issues."
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