Four Monroe County youths added to a legacy of West Virginia University Extension Service 4-H teams who have fared well in land judging and homesite evaluation contests by winning the national championship in both categories at the National Land, Range and Homesite Evaluation Contest held in Oklahoma on May 4.
Reagan Ernst, Kris Hoke, Andrew Wrzosek and Cameron Wickline practiced for more than 10 months to take home the top honors, including an extra week of practice on site in Oklahoma to acclimate to the wide variety of soils they’d be asked to judge.
Land judging and homesite evaluation programs educate youths about soil properties, and typically in West Virginia, these practices are often used when building homes or for farming and agricultural purposes.
But it’s more than evaluating soil textures, composition, permeability, erosion characteristics and the slope of the land — for many youths it’s a basis in the sciences and being good stewards of the earth explained coach, and WVU Extension Service Monroe County Agent, Brian Wickline.
“The point of the contest is for youths to comprehend the dynamics of the soil in front of them and give recommendations on how to manage it,” said Wickline. “Not only does it teach good soil conservation practices and proper land management decisions, but for some it can turn in to a lifelong interest.”
He added that the youths’ dedication is evident by learning about something that not a lot of peers take interest in. The team practiced four hours a week since January when they started to seriously prepare for the competition.
The reward for all the youths’ studying was a contest that went smoothly, despite the notoriously diverse and hard to classify soils of Oklahoma. More than 500 participants converged from a majority of states, some as far away as Hawaii.
For the Monroe County team, the competition ended with their names being called and a trophy presentation at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. But, sometimes the passion and dedication doesn’t stop directly after a competition or after the youth leaves 4-H.
Wickline said the impact of the youth agriculture program is significant, as he’s had a number of former 4-H’ers go on to pursue agricultural science degrees from higher education institutions with hopes of making a career out of it.
The competition was split into 4-H and FFA categories. West Virginia also did well in the FFA competition with teams consistently placing in the top 15. In many instances, including in Monroe County, the two programs help each other and train together.
For more than a century, 4-H has focused on agricultural science, electricity, mechanics, entrepreneurship and natural sciences. Today, 4-H out-of-school opportunities also exist in subjects like rocketry, robotics, biofuels, renewable energy and computer science.