Mineral FFA Team tops at W.Va. Envirothon

From News Reports
Mineral County team members Robby Moncrief, Lara Bittinger, Rachael Brinkman (seated), Sarah Sions and John Bittinger won first place for the Mineral County FFA team in the 2021 West Virginia Envirothon.

ROANOKE, W.Va. -- The Mineral County Future Farmers of America (FFA) team won the 2021 West Virginia Envirothon, and were named as this year’s winners during an awards ceremony that was hosted recently at Stonewall Resort and reached teams throughout the state virtually.

Mineral’s team of five high school students competed against nine other teams to win this year’s event, which is the state’s premiere conservation competition for high school students.

Led by Mineral County FFA Adviser Julie Sions, the team includes students John Bittinger, Lara Bittinger, Rachael Brinkman, Robby Moncrief and Sarah Sions.

Five-member teams who participate in the Envirothon explore current environmental and earth sciences within the framework of five disciplines: aquatics, forestry, soils, wildlife and a current environmental topic known as the "fifth topic." This year's fifth topic was “Water Resource Management: Local Control and Local Solutions.”   

Julie Sions said her team was able to get together in her classroom at the Mineral County Technical Center to hear the results during the virtual awards ceremony on Friday, April 30.

“We’re walking on cloud nine,” she said. “This is pretty spectacular for us.”

Sions has coached three teams to second-place finishes in the Envirothon. This is Mineral County FFA’s first overall team win.

For the first year ever, Envirothon moved from a hands-on competition to a virtual format to administer the testing. Teams took the tests at their schools in most cases on April 15-16 and also submitted videos for the fifth topic, which has traditionally been performed live in front of a panel of judges.

The Mineral County FFA team shares a $5,000 scholarship and will move on to participate in the 2021 NCF-Envirothon national competition, which will also be virtual this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It will be held July 25-28.

The other teams finishing in the top five were: Waterpennies, from Berkeley Springs High School in Morgan County, in second place; a team from Moorefield High School in Hardy County in third place; a Hampshire County team of home school students in fourth place; and the Braxton County FFA team in fifth place.

Teams also were rewarded for finishing with the top score in each of the five “stations,” including soils, aquatics, forestry, wildlife and the fifth topic. Mineral County FFA won aquatics, wildlife and shared the top fifth topic award with Clay FFA. The Hampshire team took the top score in soils and Braxton County FFA was best in forestry.

The Mavericks team from James Monroe High School won the Rookie Team Award for scoring the highest among new teams, while Mineral County FFA won the FFA Team Award for the highest-scoring FFA team.

In all, students, advisers and their schools received nearly $22,000 in scholarship money this year.       

The other teams participating in the 2021 West Virginia Envirothon were: Magnolia FFA, Ritchie County FFA, and the Tyler Consolidated High School team.

“It was a very unusual year, due to COVID, and we’d like to thank all the teachers, all the students, all the sponsors, and the Envirothon Committee, for making this a tremendous event,” said West Virginia Envirothon Committee chairman Wayne McKeever. “We had 10 fantastic teams that participated in this Envirothon. I’ve heard from a few teams, and they sincerely enjoyed the Envirothon this year, even though it was a little different.”

For John and Lara Bittinger on the Mineral County FFA team, the Envirothon is a family tradition. Their older sister, Leah, competed on Julie Sions’ Envirothon teams in the recent past and is a junior at West Virginia University. Leah Bittinger is studying natural resources and forestry at WVU and in part attributes her endeavors in college to the Envirothon, Sions said.  

Several of  Sions’ former Envirothon students have moved on to land careers in natural resources fields. And many of them, she said, have enjoyed that the Envirothon lets them compete together as a team.

She expects there will be a “community celebration” recognizing the Mineral County FFA team.

“There will be former students who applaud and congratulate these students because they’ve tried and tried to do it,” she said.  

The Mineral County students did miss the hands-on, outdoor competition this year. “It’s not the same being virtual,” she said.  

The West Virginia Envirothon Committee hopes to return to a hands-on competition in 2022, at Cacapon Resort State Park in Morgan County.