Friday, July 29, 2011

Augusta 4-H home school team wins national championship with coach Jennifer Mercer

 Augusta County 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program (WHEP) Team
2011 National Champions
(Left to right) Coach Doug Harpole, Meredith Persinger, 16, Mark Persinger, 15, Katie Fenneran, 16, Trube Short, 17, Coach Jennifer Mercer

Proving there is no "I" in team, the Augusta County 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program (WHEP) Team stormed the National 4-H Championship competition this week in Little Rock, Arkansas, by becoming National Champions in the nationwide competition. Beating out 16 other teams from across the country, they provided presentations individually and as a team to secure the top spot.

Their coach, Jennifer Mercer of Augusta County, led them to excellence as she has for years ... encouraging, coaching, mentoring, and being a constant presence to the team of four local young people who proudly represented Virginia. Jennifer, who is married and the step-mom to a young soldier who served in Iraq, has been the long-time 4-H extension agent in the central Shenandoah Valley county of Augusta.

Also coaching the team was Doug Harpole, 4-H Agent from Fauquier County, who was assigned to the team by the Virginia State 4-H and Virginia Tech after the Augusta group won the state competition.

The WHEP team was made up entirely of Augusta County home school students: Trube Short, 17, Katie Fenneran, 16, Mark Persinger, 15, and Meredith Persinger,16.

They first organized in 2005 as young "Nature Nuts" under the leadership of Jennifer who worked with them until 2007, then home school mom Deanna Persinger took over. After two years, when the team decided they wanted to compete at the national level, Jennifer was asked to take over again in December 2009 so they could go to the next level of education and competition.

"I had taken them as far as I could, " Deanna told me. "Jennifer had the expertise to teach them beyond my knowledge."

With help from others in the local home school community, team members studied all aspects of wildlife habitat and how to offer presentations at competitions on wildlife, urban wildlife damage management, and other topics. Home school dads Al Bourgeois and David Kocka, wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, spent time with them on educational field trips to further their scope of wildlife, wetlands, habitats, and nature.

Older home school grads who had competed at the National 4-H level in the past lent a hand. Josh Salatin, 23, inspired. Nate Salatin, 25, motivated. Jill Bourgeois Colon-Romero, 23, encouraged.

Along the way, Jennifer kept everyone focused and on track, drilling them on facts and information while encouraging them to give their best. She even took the team to Maryland for five days to study a variety of wetlands in preparation for the 2011 national competition, studying marshes and explaining the various aspects of wetlands management. Her dedication and love for working with young people, and her devotion to bringing out the best in young competitors has made her an excellent coach throughout the years. The seeds of her influence have been sown in numerous 4-Hers in Augusta County.

Deanna added, "Jennifer knows how to train, how to compare, how to instill the competitiveness, and how to bring out the winning spirit with the kids. She tells them at competitions, 'Don't worry if you don't win. Just go out and have fun.' "

On her Facebook page, Jennifer posted late Wednesday night, "Words cannot express how proud, honored, and humbled I am to have had the opportunity to work with such an incredible group of young people... The VA 4-H WHEP Team: Trube, Meredith, Katie, and Mark did not just get first place at the National Contest. They ROCKED Little Rock!!! Blew the socks off the competition. Gave me the best gift I could ever ask for and the timing could not be better!"

Each member of the team also did well in individual competition but there was one additional honor that was bestowed on team member Mark Persinger. He received special recognition for service over and beyond what was expected of a competitor, singled out for displaying a high standard of character and work ethic. When he found himself with an hour of time on his hands in the mornings before the day's activities, he helped the ladies in the kitchen pack lunches for campers. Grateful for his extra pair of helping hands, the 4-H camp gave recognition to a camper who had offered to help the staff during his spare time, something that had never before been done.

The Augusta County 2005 home school Envirothon Team was an inspiration for Meredith Persinger who kept a photo on the wall of members who made it to Nationals in West Virginia. Coming in second against teams across the country, the Envirothon team was also made up entirely of home school students: Josh Salatin, Nate Salatin, Jill Bourgeois, Lee Kelley, Ryan Bourgeois, Shane Robacker, and Leigh Robacker.

Many in the community got behind the effort to send the WHEP team to Nationals: Shenandoah Harley-Davidson, Skyline Kennel Club, Staunton Foods, Nuckols Gun, Virginia Frame Builders & Supply, James River Equipment, The Meating Place, nTelos, and many individuals.

The tired but happy group of young people flew home Thursday night with medals, scholarships, and recognition as the best of the best in America for 4-H Wildlife Habitat, and the satisfaction that the years of hard work paid off.

In the words of Augusta County home school mom Donna Salatin, mom of four home schooled alumni including a U.S. Marine who served twice in Iraq, "Home schoolers can do anything if they are willing to work hard at it."

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

The team at Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria, VA, after winning the State Title on April 2, 2011.

Meredith sketched out all of the species with detailed information.

Tagging Canada geese.

One of the Maryland/Delaware wetlands the team studied in preparation for the national competition.  

Studying wildlife habitat in Maryland-Delaware.

The Senior WHEP team helped the Ruffed Grouse Society plant fruit trees as a food source for wild turkey in March 2010. Kenny Wilkinson and Al Bourgeois were instrumental in teaching them that day.

Katie and Meredith assisted Al Bourgeois in planting trees on Little North Mountain in western Augusta County.

1 comment:

Cindi said...

Way to go Homeschoolers! Proud of our Virginia brethren!