Cecil 4-H members prepare for national plant competition
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.”
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.