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Students master the nature of competition

Springstead High School's Mighty Sea Turtles proved their strength Wednesday by outscoring dozens of other oddly named teams in the 2006 Regional Nature Coast Envirothon.

More than 200 high school students streamed into the normally serene McKethan Lake Park just north of Brooksville to compete in the annual science knowledge contest.

Students from Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Pasco counties competed in five-member teams in five categories of science.

The Envirothon is an annual competition, with the winning team receiving a $2,500 college scholarship, given by the St. Petersburg Times, to divide among its members.

Two of the winning team's members, Jordan Eubanks and Brendon Fisher, were veterans of the event, having competed twice before and never won.

"It was amazing. Wonderful," Jordan said. "After all this time we finally made it."

The other, less-experienced team members were Amanda Carlson, Alexis Gioe and Josh Markham.

There is a state-level Envirothon, this year to be held at Silver River State Park in Marion County, and the top-scoring teams from each county will compete there.

The Mighty Sea Turtles will represent Hernando. Citrus' top team, the Funky Fishes, is from the Academy of Environmental Science. Pasco's high scorer was the Smoggers from Hudson High School. Sumter's The Villages High School will send the Freshman Connection.

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 of the teams.

"The directions were complex," said Mike Greco of Springstead's Vengeful Volvox. "It was the questions using the topographical maps."

But that was okay. "Even though some were hard," Mike said, "we still had fun."

The event was also a learning experience. "I always thought of environmental science as being animals and the water and stuff, and this shows you there's more than that," said Nicole "Nikki" Weaver from Central High School's Team One.

"We don't realize how much of the environment we take for granted," said Nikki's teammate, Shawn Wilson.

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 County, Environmental Mafia, Springstead - Chris Denny, Cody Hughes, Brittany Proctor, Jacob Sanchez and Jakob Petracco.

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

Soils: Pasco County, 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 and 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

Robbie Williamson, 16, his girlfriend

Celina Chappell, 16, and Sharnita Bain, on the swing, 17, enjoy some time off from competing in the 2006 Regional Nature Coast Envirothon at McKethan Lake Park near Brooksville on Wednesday. Bain and Chappell were on the Black Beauties team; Williamson's was called the Unknowns. The top-scoring teams from this event will go on to the state-level Envirothon.

Central High School student Nicole Weaver, left, 17, and fellow Team One members Shawn Wilson, center, 17, and Aleyse Horn, 16, look for invasive vegetation along the shore of McKethan Lake. The Envirothon tested students in five categories including wildlife, soils and forestry.