Ce­cil 4-H mem­bers pre­pare for na­tional plant com­pe­ti­tion

Cecil Whig - - OBITUARIES & LOCAL - By JANE BELLMYER jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

RIS­ING SUN — While many peo­ple spent Satur­day out­doors play­ing soc­cer, pick­ing pump­kins or at­tend­ing yard sales, se­lect mem­bers of Ce­cil County 4-H were in­side study­ing plants.

“These kids are prac­tic­ing for the Na­tional Ju­nior Hor­ti­cul­tural As­so­ci­a­tion com­pe­ti­tion,” said Su­san Sprout Knight, 4-H ad­vi­sor, as the mem­bers walked slowly around ta­bles in the fel­low­ship hall at Janes United Methodist Church and tried to iden­tify the var­i­ous sam­ples.

“There are over 200 species in the com­pe­ti­tion, any­thing from flow­ers, seeds, bark and roots,” Knight said. “It’s col­lege level, but I know mas­ter gar­den­ers and col­lege stu­dents that can’t do this.”

Rachel Ward hugged her clip­board and bent low to get a closer look at one of the plants ly­ing on a pa­per plate. Ward placed first in the Mary­land com­pe­ti­tion, which earned the Elk­ton girl a spot on the na­tional team.

“It’s just fun. I just like it,” she said, adding her win at the state level sur­prised her.

The Calvert Boys and Girls 4-H and Kids of the Fu­ture clubs, both based in Ce­cil County, will rep­re­sent Mary­land at the con­ven­tion in Indianapolis on Fri­day.

Eileen Boyle, an­other of the adult ad­vi­sors for the 4-H team, said Ce­cil County is a force with which to be reck­oned at na­tion­als.

“Over the last 16 years, Mary­land has won 13 of those years and most have been from Ce­cil County,” Boyle said.

That’s quite the feat when you con­sider that the kids will have to iden­tify the un­fa­mil­iar.

“Sam­ples are taken from all over the United States. It could be things the’ve never seen be­fore,” Boyle said.

In the com­pe­ti­tion, they could see hazel­nuts or Brazil nuts, which are not na­tive species in Mary­land, much less Ce­cil County.

Seth Don­nel­ley, 17, aced the ex­ams last year, Boyle said.

“Seth had an al­most per­fect score with only four wrong,” she said.

While they are told how many were wrong, Boyle said they are not told which ones were an­swered in­cor­rectly.

In spite of the pres­sure, James Houck also has fun iden­ti­fy­ing the plants. Al­though he lives in Havre de Grace, the 17-year-old is a mem­ber of the Ce­cil County 4-H. He said this comes to him nat­u­rally.

“I just re­mem­ber stuff. It sticks in my head,” he said.

For Don­nel­ley, from West Grove, Pa., be­ing in­volved in hor­ti­cul­ture is part of his in­ter­est in bi­ol­ogy.

“I’m not plan­ning to ma­jor in bi­ol­ogy,” he said of his plans af­ter grad­u­a­tion. “But if you’ve been do­ing this for awhile you learn stuff.”

Case in point, he now knows how to iden­tify cer­tain trop­i­cal fruits and he has seen the husk of a Brazil nut.

How­ever, Tay­lor Knight fig­ures she is car­ry­ing on the fam­ily tra­di­tion.

“My cousins did this,” said Knight, 18, from Ris­ing Sun. “My cousin Erica (Sprout) went to na­tion­als.”

Knight’s mother and two un­cles also com­peted at that level so she knows what to ex­pect at na­tion­als.

“It’s go­ing to be over­whelm­ing. I’ll just try to stay fo­cused with ev­ery­one around me,” she said.

Amongst all the teenagers was Har­lan King, 7. His grand­mother, Con­nie King, said Har­lan was there to learn how to func­tion in the com­pe­ti­tion for fu­ture ref­er­ence. Ward of­fered him some ad­vice.

“Just do it. If you don’t know it, skip over it and come back,” she said. “If you don’t know the an­swer just guess. You might get it right.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Tay­lor Knight counts the plant spec­i­mens on the ta­ble be­fore her to make sure she has iden­ti­fied each. Knight and four other mem­bers of the Ce­cil County 4-H Na­tion­als team spent Satur­day morn­ing prac­tic­ing be­fore head­ing to the Na­tional Ju­nior Hor­ti­cul­ture As­so­ci­a­tion com­pe­ti­tion Fri­day in In­di­ana.

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