JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On Thursday, high school students from Duval and Nassau counties were working hard as they fought their way to the state championship, but this group of scholars wasn't inside of the classroom or on the on basketball court.
Instead they were getting their hands dirty in the field for this year's regional Envirothon competition. More than 130 students were divided into 23 teams, and each team dug deep into the environment in an attempt to solve difficult problems in areas such as forestry and soil science.
Brandon Whitley is a junior at Hilliard Middle-Senior High School, and he and his classmates were on one the teams that gathered at Jacksonville's Lake Fretwell Park for the competition.
"This is what I do," said Whitley as he described the characteristics of a nearby tree stump at the forestry station.
"That dark center is the core, and that's what we were looking for earlier is the core layer and trying to figure out, because you've got your sapwood, your heartwood, your core. That's all part of the tree taking the water up," said Whitley.
His team used that same attention to detail to rise to the top of this year's Fred B. Miller Regional Envirothon competition.
"They are getting out of the classroom. They are getting into nature and seeing what it is all about from the professionals and meeting students all over," said Joyce Miller, the Envirothon coordinator .
Miller and Envirothon's founder Allen Moore have provided local students with hands-on opportunities through the program for years now in hopes of redirecting the attention of a technologically focused generation towards matters concerning the environment.
"There are excellent opportunities in these areas and we ask them to take a close look at them and hopefully we will come away with at least one or two recruits," said Moore.
Moore's wish may soon come true, if this competition is any indicator of Whitley's future career path.
"I can't stand being inside. I know grades are important. I keep my grades up, but outside is where it's at," said Whitely.
Darnell Cookman Middle-High School High School ultimately took home first place in Thursday's regional competition.
Next month the Darnell Cookman team called the "Angry Avocados" will head to the state Envirothon competition and from there the winning team will head to Boise, Idaho, this summer, where it will compete with teams from around the world for a cash prize.