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Region 9 Forestry students to compete in Indiana

THEY’RE OFF TO COMPETE IN THE NATIONALS: After numerous Sunday study sessions all summer and into the fall, Region #9 Vocational Technical School team members (1-r) Steve Miller, Josh Olszewski, Kayla Allen, Ben Custeau, AJ Keaton, and Coach Cuinn McConnell left for Indiana on Tuesday to compete in forestry and career development events. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
October 20, 2011
WOLFEBORO — Winning the state championship last spring was the start of months of preparation to compete at the national level for the Governor Wentworth Regional School District's Region #9 forestry students.

The team, consisting of Josh Olszewski, Ben Custeau, Kayla Allen, and Andrew Keaton, has been coached since that win by Cuinn McConnell (Class of 2011), who was named 2010 State Star in Agriscience at the 80th Granite State Convention of the Future Farmers of America. He's put his experience to work in helping this year's team prepare for the nationals in Indiana, as others have done for him.

The group, along with Agricultural Sciences teacher Bruce Farr, left on Tuesday, Oct. 18, for the National Future Farmers of America convention in Indiana.

They've met every Sunday night between 6 and 8 p.m. in a room in the Kingswood Arts Center since school got out last spring to view PowerPoints and slideshows, including some pictures taken at McConnell's job sites (he's a certified logger) to hone their tree identification skills, knowledge of forest disorders, timber stand improvement and equipment used in the industry.

In other sessions, Center Ossipee firemen Nate Williams and Shawn Emond talked about forest fires and prevention and familiarized the students with firefighting equipment.

Already, the work paid off with a third place finish in the "Big E," the Eastern States Exposition, where the team bested numerous participants from as far south as Virginia, all along the Eastern Seaboard, the Middle Atlantic States and as far west as Ohio. Learning to recognize an Ohio Buckeye or a Sassafras has its merits.

The team placed third among all the states, and Olszewski placed third among more than 30 contestants in individual competition – wins certain to boost their confidence and motivation for the national level tests coming up next week.

"They worked hard, and it was well-earned," said a proud McConnell.

Each level of competition brings the students out of their comfort zone and into new realms of expertise.

McConnell said he's tried to mix things up and get the group outside and take a break from the books. An excursion to the University of New Hampshire on Columbus Day gave the team an opportunity for a close look at tree specimens on the campus, such as yellow poplar, for example, that aren't prevalent in Carroll County.

Don Quigley of the Thompson School of Agriculture showed the students around to give them a chance to study the bark, buds, and leaves and needles of a variety of specimens to prepare them for the wider scope of tree knowledge needed to score well in the national level.

In addition, a former Region #9 Forestry student and a graduate of the Thompson School of Agriculture, James Airey, was called in by Farr to share his knowledge of trees out West, where he did a forestry apprenticeship.

McConnell said the students were able to get beyond general, more common information, and explore more types within a species. They've studied a range of pines such as red, ponderosa, loblolly, lodge pole, long leaf and short leaf for example.

Team members know that three of the six tests they will undergo will be on tree identification, forestry disorders and forestry equipment, but the remaining three are a unknown until the competition. That means they've had to study for every single one of numerous categories to fully prepare.

Steve Miller, a member of last year's winning team will compete in the job interview section of the career development event, and Megan Horne will be presenting an eight-minute formal speech in the public speaking competition.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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