They didn’t win, but oh man they came close.
Chilliwack secondary school’s Envirothon team walked away from this year’s Canon Envirothon competition 30 points out from breaking the top 10. At 21st overall, they gained 33 spots on last year’s dismal last-place finish. They also scored best oral presentation.
The competition was fierce, and the Chilliwack team focused, so focused team captain Connor Ford chewed dirt for the win.
“I put the soil in my mouth and ground it on my teeth to figure out the texture,” said Ford, describing a soil-screening test he’d read about prior to the competition. “It was really smooth on my hands and my teeth, but a little bit gritty, so I could tell it had about 10 to 20 per cent sand in it.”
“Connor took one for the team,” laughed teammate Zach Greenwood, not sure if he’d be willing to do the same.
The Canon Envirothon competition is North America’s largest high school environmental education competition with more than 500,000 students throughout Canada and the United States competing locally and regionally for a spot at the international competition, which awards cash prizes to the top-10 teams.
The Chilliwack team worked for months, giving up lunch hours, spare blocks, after-school hours, and even a month of their summer to prepare.
This year’s competition, held last month in New Brunswick, had 55 teams with representation from 46 states and eight provinces. Participants were tested in five areas – all New Brunswick related – that included aquatics, wildlife, forestry, estuaries, soils and land use.
Each test was timed.
“It was really stressful and intense, because it was a lot to remember – stuff we had to pull out of our heads,” said Greenwood. “We had to go on instinct.”
There was no clock set up, they just had to work through the problems as fast as they could. When time was up, the judges told them to drop everything and move to the next station.
“It was hell,” said Andrea Bernard. “We couldn’t figure out if we were right, we just had to answer the questions. There was a lot of second guessing.”
To prepare for the oral presentation, each team was given the scenario of building an oil refinery on the Bay of Fundy and were required to come up with ways of making it eco-friendly. They were then holed up in a tiny dorm room for 10 straight hours, not allowed to leave the room, unless for a washroom break, and then, only one at a time. A facilitator was placed outside the door to ensure no cheating.
“There was a lot of snapping,” said Bernard. “We’d already been around each other 24/7, and then we were stuck in a room for 10 hours. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to run, we couldn’t escape each other’s company.”
Despite the tensions, Chilliwack’s team still came out on top.
At the competition’s final banquet, the awards’ presenter waxed poetic about a team that had achieved one of the best marks in the oral category the competition had ever seen, 179.33 out of 200. When Chilliwack’s name was called, its members sat in the audience oblivious.
“I wasn’t really listening to the guy, because I knew he wouldn’t call us, but then he did,” said Bernard, who jumped out of her seat cheering as soon as it registered.
The gains this year, have both Connie Williams, CSS science teacher and Envirothon leader, and Greenwood, who’s going into Grade 12, excited for next year.
“We’re so close,” said Williams. “Now we’ve just got one more thing to figure out how to get us even closer.”
“Hopefully next year we’ll get into the top-10,” said Greenwood, fingers crossed.