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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Across Texas and Back!

We came in late last night so I was not able to post about contest day as planned.  Here are the highlights of the day:

We started out the morning with the Texas Ranger grabbing up TWO rattlesnakes before the contest even began (not a good picture but we know the snake was there!).  Renee and I prayed special prayers of safety over the 4Hers as they headed out in the field.  I think we were all pumped up and wired tight as we were getting on each others nerves a little waiting for it all to begin.  I guess the build up was more intense than we realized.  We started a little later than expected, so that did not help.  However, once everyone got in their assigned groups there seems to be more of a peace in the air.

Then the waiting began for Renee and I, along with three younger siblings (Naomi-who was also our alternate!, Edward, and Brendan).  The little ones found ways to occupy themselves with the red dirt and a few toys.  They also had the opportunity to ride around in an ATV.  Empty water bottles seemed to be the hit of the morning, as they collected dirt and insects (Mr. Joe would be proud).  I got a little rest and time with other coaches.  I even got a lesson in grasses from one of the FFA students (an alternate with time on his hands as he waited along with us!).

Then the 4Hers returned after almost three hours in the field.  They had gone through seven stations related to wildlife, plant ID, and management.  Renee and I thankfully made it through the contest in about thirty minutes. I think we did a good job of reviewing information before the contest.  Techniques varied in skill from deer aging to wing ID to hides.  I think it was a good variety of skills for the group.  The plants were all ones we had seen over the last few days, except a very young annual sunflower and broomweed.  The focus animals were deer, quail and dove, which was a good combination for our group.  Renee and I rushed back as we had to gather the group back into cars and find a different location for lunch and awards.  Here are a few examples:

Can you believe that pesky wolfberry made it on the contest?!

How to age a deer by its teeth

Not a great picture but this was a snow goose wing

Don't be fooled...this was a mule deer!
See the black tip on its tail?
We began looking around the meeting room as we gathered for awards.  Even though we were told we had competed against eight other 4H teams, there were only FFA shirts in the building.  We were feeling like we were out of place.  We soon realized that the other 4H teams were made up of FFA members as well.  When awards were given out they did not even recognize the 4H presence in the room.  This was very different from my past experiences.  Awards were given and all were given to teams wearing FFA shirts.  This was very disappointing for us.

Once again, I realize the importance of the learning experience for our 4Hers.  Do we do this for the trophy or for the expereince?  After all, if we had not gone on this trip, we would never have been able to learn about wildlife and plants at the focus level we did.  We also would not have had the opportunity, as a group, to experience two amazing Texas parks with awesome park rangers!  The experience far outweighed the trophy.

Also, we arrived home late in the night (morning?), but I took the time to check out our scores.  I am so proud of our little group!  We placed 5th in the 4H division (Sean, Joseph, Henry, and Caitlin), and our 4Hers were in the upper half of the individual scores.  I guess those learning experiences paid off after all.  The group certainly retained the information we learned and hopefully enjoyed doing it!  Best of all, we are a young team, and we will have many years to continue our efforts (After all, I have a 3-year old already learning and maybe another little wildlife expert on the way!).  We have many lessons to bring back to our other 4H participants for next year.

Always looking for ways to 'make the best better!'

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