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FFA Team from Pendleton Excels at National Event

JUNCTION CITY, Kansas — As one of two states in the nation with both a 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) team in the National Wildlife Habitat Education Program Contest (WHEP) and with both teams posting stellar scores, South Carolina’s young people made their mark on the national stage after an extended absence.

Four members of the FFA team — Sydney Gambrell, Chase Greene, Julianna Hernandez and Chance Parker — are students or recent graduates from Anderson County (Pendleton High). The Pendleton FFA adviser is Blake Berry.

The South Carolina 4-H Team and South Carolina FFA Team and their coaches/advisers pose together during the National WHEP Contest at the Rock Springs 4-H Center in Junction City, Kansas. Pictured are, from left: Mallory Dailey, Sarah Ebenhack, Chance Parker, Sophie Cox, Chase Greene, Stephen Schutt, Sydney Gambrell, Chase Land, Blake Berry, Shawn Underwood, Julianna Hernandez and Gina Spear. Image Credit: Clemson University

For the first time in more than 20 years, South Carolina had two teams compete in the National Wildlife Habitat Education Program Contest at the Rock Springs 4-H Center in Junction City July 14-17. Its FFA squad finished in first place in the FFA division with a score of 277.36 while South Carolina 4-H finished third place in the 4-H division with a score of 301.56.

“The future of wildlife conservation is in good hands,” said Oconee County 4-H agent Mallory Dailey. “Where else can you find over 70 youth from across the country representing their states at the highest level and putting their wildlife knowledge to the test?”

The Wildlife Habitat Education Program is a natural resources program aimed to teaching wildlife and fisheries habitat management to youth ages 9-18 and providing them the opportunity to make real-life wildlife management decisions and exposing them to potential careers in wildlife management.

All told, 17 teams of three to four youth from 15 states tested their wildlife knowledge in a friendly competition.

Pendleton's Gambrell of the South Carolina FFA team said traveling to Kansas was an eye-opening experience because of the opportunity to see a different ecoregion outside of her home state.

“I became involved because I enjoy being able to take knowledge learned in the classroom, such as South Carolina wildlife and biology, and apply it to real life scenarios,” she said. “Some of my favorite moments were simply exploring the tallgrass prairie found in Junction City, Kansas, with my teammates. I would encourage any curious student to participate in the Wildlife Habitat Education Program for the opportunity to not only become more knowledgeable on their state’s wildlife, but also to work as a team with fellow students.”

South Carolina had eight youth from Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties representing the state, along with their four coaches and advisers. The South Carolina 4-H team was comprised of members from Oconee County 4-H: Sophie Cox, Sarah Ebenhack, Chase Land and Shawn Underwood. The South Carolina FFA team was comprised of Pendleton High School FFA members Gambrell, Chase Greene, Julianna Hernandez and Chance Parker.

Along with Dailey, Oconee County Parks and Recreation Superintendent Stephen Schutt, Oconee County Parks and Recreation park ranger Gina Spear and Pendleton FFA adviser Berry helped prepare and train the kids to compete at the national contest.

Both teams earned the right to compete at nationals with their performance at the South Carolina State Wildlife Habitat Education Program Contest in April at the National Wild Turkey Federation in Edgefield. The contest was held in conjunction with Clemson Extension, Clemson University department of forestry and environmental conservation and private industries.

The contest took place in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, which is home to the first land-grant university in the United States: Kansas State. The primary land-grant institution in South Carolina, Clemson is charged with improving the quality of life of South Carolinians by providing unbiased, research-based information through an array of public outreach programs, such as the 4-H program for youth development.

And while the South Carolina group visited the nation’s first land-grant university, they also had the chance to experience many other firsts — most of the team had never been to Kansas prior to the trip and many had never even been on a plane before. Along the way, they experienced some adventures along the way, such as eating Kansas City barbecue and visiting the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

The trip was funded by Greg Yarrow and the Clemson University forestry and environmental conservation department. 

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