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Yough's Envirothon winning streak snapped

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 6:21 p.m.
Students were told about farm animals and allowed to hold and feed the animals at one of the demonstration stations at the Westmoreland County Envirothon. Yough students getting a closer look are (from left) Jacob Bednar, 16, Ben Baldwin, 16, Jacob Mullaney, 16, Jason Walko, 16, and Gavin Gallaher, 15.

Learning about Pennsylvania's wildlife, forest composition and water chemistry are only a few of the topics that are covered annually in county Envirothons, held every year and hosted by county Conservation Districts.

The Westmoreland County Envirothon was recently held at Twin Lakes Park near Greensburg, and event organizers were pleasantly surprised with this year's response.

“This is a record year for us,” Westmoreland Conservation district assistant director Tony Quadro said. “In the 30 years that we have been a part of this, this is the most teams we have ever had with 19 teams competing this year.”

Quadro said that the increase in participation may be due in part to the general overall increase in interest for environmental concerns and issues but could also be based partly on the students and teachers experiences at the event itself.

“Last year, Latrobe participated again after they had been gone for many years,” Quadro said. “It was great to see them back and this year, they contacted us and asked if they could bring three teams which was great. We like to see the increase in interest, and it also means that they must have enjoyed the event last year.”

The students who participate in the event are broken into teams of four or five, and all must visit the six stations that make up the event.

Every year, there are five fixed stations of “Soils,” “Forestry,” Wildlife,” “Aquatics” and “Demonstration.”

A sixth station titled “Current Issue” changes every year, with this year's subject being “Sustainable Agriculture-Locally Grown.”

The students visit each station for a period of 35 minutes, then answer a series of questions based on that site and topic.

Questions are then scored with the top team being announced at the end of the daylong event.

Yough High School biology teacher and event faculty adviser Greg King brought two teams to the event, with his school being the reigning county champion for the past three years.

King said that all of the members from the winning team have now graduated, but the students of the teams are enthusiastic and interested in the subject matter.

“They work all year on this,” King said of the event, explaining that the students get together once a week during their activities period to prepare for the event.

All of the schools participating get packets of information to study and cover, preparing them for the competition.

“They all study everything, and we also have students who then concentrate on one area to focus on,” King said.

“I think that this is really interesting,” Yough student Gavin Gallaher, 15, said. “Pennsylvania is a very agricultural state.”

“Since we live in it I think we should learn about it,” Yough student and first time participant Ben Baldwin, 16, said.

Mt. Pleasant ecology teacher and event faculty sponsor Betty Jo Breakiron said that she enjoys the event and stresses to her students that it is both educational and fun.

“I tell them to have fun,” Breakiron said of her teams composed of newcomers to the event. “I tell them to go out and enjoy this. This is the best learning experience that they can get.”

Participating schools this year included Norwin, Greensburg Central Catholic, Southmoreland, Yough, Derry, Mt. Pleasant, Burrell, Kiski Area and Greater Latrobe.

Norwin took home first place, and the students will now compete at the state competitions May 20-21.

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.