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Students master contest's nature

Three Pasco County teams returned from Wednesday's 2006 Regional Nature Coast Envirothon with awards after competing with dozens of teams in the annual science competition. The event was held at McKethan Lake Park just north of Brooksville.

Students from Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties competed in five-member teams in five categories, with the winning team receiving a $2,500 college scholarship, given by the St. Petersburg Times, to divide among its members.

The overall winning team was the Mighty Sea Turtles from Hernando County's Springstead High School.

Hudson High School's the Smoggers will represent Pasco County at the state competition at Silver River State Park in Marion County. Team members were Andrew Wilson, James Hickey, Joseph Lisanti, Joel Santos and Mathew Sofarelli.

Other teams eligible for state are the Mighty Sea Turtles, Springstead, Hernando; the Freshman Connection, the Villages High School, Sumter County; and the Funky Fishes, from the Academy of Environmental Science, Citrus County.

Pasco High School's Krusty Krab team tied with Hernando County's Nature Coast Technical High School team, Mooney's, in the aquatics competition. The Krusty Krab students were Ricky Mayotte, Ian Hartshorn, Raymond Phipps, Weston Johnson and Jordan Kassabaum.

Mitchell High School's the Braddy Bunch - Kendall Moyer, Joe Urgo, Kara Ratajcak, Doug Cantwell and Demi Vasalitis - earned top scores in the soils category. Some students shared why they are willing to give up a day at school and participate in the sometimes difficult competition.

"This counts as a grade," said Stephanie Garcia, a member of Gulf High School's EnviroMENTALists team, who admitted that the park was beautiful.

Pasco High School's The Pirates had other reasons for being there. "It's relaxing," said team member Mariah Watson.

"I learned how to do the soil sampling and to do pH levels," said a teammate, Bret Denny.

Hudson High School's Planet of the Apes team members Courtney Lazzari and Shannon Hohimer couldn't resist mentioning one of the features of the park that seemed to have made the trip worthwhile for them. "We came for the swings," they said.

At Wednesday's regional competition, the teams rotated among these categories: forestry, soils, aquatics, wildlife, and water stewardship in a changing climate. Soils seems to have been the most difficult category for many teams.

Besides the awards for top scorer overall and top county scorers, recognition and certificates were given to the teams that scored highest in the individual categories. They were:

+ Aquatics: (tie) Pasco County, Krusty Krab, Pasco High School - Ricky Mayotte, Ian Hartshorn, Raymond Phipps, Weston Johnson and Jordan Kassabaum; Hernando County, Mooney's, Nature Coast Technical High School - Patrick Gonzales, Monica Gula, Jada Padilla, Alyssa Diaz and Matt Lambert.

+ Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate: Hernando, Environmental Mafia, Springstead - Chris Denny, Cody Hughes, Brittany Proctor, Jacob Sanchez and Jakob Petracco.

+ Forestry: Hernando, Mighty Sea Turtles, Springstead - Brendon Fisher, Amanda Carlson, Alexis Gioe, Jordan Eubanks and Josh Markham.

+ Soils: Pasco, the Braddy Bunch, Mitchell High School - Kendall Moyer, Joe Urgo, Kara Ratajcak, Doug Cantwell and Demi Vasalitis.

The 2006 Nature Coast Envirothon was sponsored by the Times, Coastal Trophy & Sign of Crystal River, the Hernando County Chapter of the Florida Audubon Society, the Hernando County Chapter of the Native Plant Society, Dixie Hollins/Citrus Mining and Timber, Coca-Cola, Florida Division of Forestry, Hernando County Commission and Covanta.

These groups prepared and organized the various testing stations:

+ Forestry: Florida Division of Forestry

+ Aquatics: Hernando County planning and utilities departments

+ Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate: Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud).

+ Soils: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Services

+ Wildlife: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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