Nearly two weeks after the Pocahontas County High School forestry team was named National Champions at the National FFA Convention, forestry teacher Scott Garber is still in shock.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, yet,” he said. “Not even close. This is the first first place. We got second in 2014, twelfth in 2015 and seventh in 2011.”
The team of seniors – Kyle Cohenour, Jacob Jones, Mathias Solliday and Brandon Puffenbarger – worked so well together, that all four were gold medalist, which helped them come out on top above the other 47 teams in the competition.
“We were the only team out of forty-seven to have all four individuals receive gold medals,” Garber said.
The competition has elements which require the students to work separately, but for the most part, they work together, which is where the PCHS team has the upper hand.
“That’s where this group excelled,” Garber said. “They were good in the events, but as a whole, they were great. Where other states might have one or two kids that excelled in something – overall, with all things considered, our team was better.”
The team also had a bit of an advantage because Cohenour and Jones were on the team last year, and they had a natural who joined the team right before the state competition.
“Brandon actually just started a month-and-a-half before nationals,” Garber said. “He came in two weeks before states, then he ended up being first in the state. He picked up on the hard work really quick.”
The competition is similar to the state level in which the teams have to do tree identification, team interview, saw timber and a written exam, as well as choose from the following categories: mapping, insects and pests, chainsaw knowledge, wood products, compass and pacing, and forest business problems.
Garber and his teams always expect to do well, but they also try to be realistic and not assume they will place first in everything.
At the awards ceremony, Garber said he was keeping track of which teams had bronze, silver and gold medalists to see where his team ranked.
“They say bronze emblem and go through all the names with their state,” he said. “Me, I’m there with my pen and paper, charting which states are usually good. Then they go through silver – then you get a little more excited because you haven’t been called and you’re also excited because they called a really good state.
“Then, we have four gold individuals,” he continued. “Wow. It was pretty exciting once we realized we had four gold medal winners. They were expecting to do well because they had high expectations for themselves, but I think as it became more realistic that we could have done well – they were more anxious, more nervous, more excited, not knowing what to feel.”
Once Garber received the final score sheet ranking all the teams, it became even more clear just how well the team did.
“It was tallied up – we ended up being ahead of second place by forty-seven points,” he said. “State level, that would be close. National level, that’s ‘you guys did well.’ It’s not the level of Mr. Burns’ team back in 1995 who had first, second, third and fourth individuals, but still, it was significant.”
Having a team of four seniors this year means that next year, Garber will be recruiting four new foresters. To some, it would seem like a disadvantage, but for Garber, it’s a great opportunity for four new students.
“It’s a clean slate,” he said. “It’s always a good thing. It’s good to see those kids being successful and just doing something they may or may not have ever thought was possible. That’s a big reward.”
Garber’s first championship team joins his predecessor Mike Burns’ six FFA championships and one 4-H championship.