History made: winningest team at South brings home another strong finish

Chloe Arciero and Maggie Baumstark

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South’s Horticulture team took 11th place at the National Floriculture Career Development Event (Floriculture) on the weekend of Oct. 29 in Indianapolis, placing the highest that the team has ever finished at the event, said Jeff Rylander, instructional supervisor of the Science Department. Over the past 40 years, the Horticulture team has claimed 30 state titles, making it the most successful team at South.

After placing second at the State competition last spring, South’s Horticulture team qualified for Floriculture, the national competition held in Indianapolis, Rylander said. The team is comprised of seniors Laura Schonken, M-K Russell, Sarah Williams and juniors Teerada Thia and Annabelle Northrup, Horticulture Coach Erin McBride said.

“In Floriculture, Horticulture [team] has never done this well,” McBride said. “Placing 11th in the nation was just absolutely amazing news. I was so shocked and so proud of them. In the past we’ve never been that high of a ranking team.”

McBride also has a personal connection to the team because she was a member of it when she was a student at South, and was inspired by her own teacher to pursue teaching Horticulture. Above all, McBride said, the team members themselves and the effort they put into the competitions are what make the Horticulture team special.

“[The kids] are so dedicated,” McBride said. “They’re excited and they want to win and they definitely have the potential to always be winners. I can’t wait to take this team to State and see what they do. They’re so passionate about it and I love it.”

Not only did the team place highly, but some team members also succeeded individually, McBride said. Schonken, who has been a member of the team since her freshman year, placed 12th in the nation individually at Floriculture, and received $400 as a prize.

To prepare for competitions, Schonken said she regularly meets with the rest of the Horticulture team to study plant identifications, practice floral arrangements or corsages, and research for future events. Schonken added that being on the team is very rewarding to her because she is able to learn about a field of study she enjoys with a group of people who share her passion.

“[The best part of being on the team] is just being able to hang out with people who have similar interests and it’s great to be able to go to competitions and have a fun time no matter how [well] we do,” Schonken said. “Our sponsor is super supportive of us and it’s always a great time.”

At the two-day Floriculture event, the Horticulture team competed in both individual events, which ranged from propagating plants to designing arrangements, and team events, which consisted of collaborating on different arrangements and taking horticulture knowledge tests, Russell said. Russell, a first year member of the team, was pleasantly surprised by the team’s high finish, especially compared to the amount of preparation other teams from more agriculture-focused states put in.

“Going into this, I wouldn’t say we didn’t do much studying, but we weren’t so pressured like some of the teams that knew they were going to do really well,” Russell said. “I wouldn’t say I was shocked, but I was surprised [to learn that] if we really buckled down and worked really hard for the next time, we could do so well.”

In addition to the competitions, Floriculture also consisted of an exposition where different colleges and agriculture companies presented to attendees, McBride said. Schonken explained that the exposition allows students to explore possible future careers in the field of horticulture, such as botany or the field of floriculture. For Russell, this part of Floriculture opened her eyes to new career paths unknown to her before. McBride and Rylander both believe that the opportunities that come with exploring Horticulture are vast and many, and encourage students to give the one-semester elective a try.

“[Horticulture is] a course that is really accessible to all students,” Rylander said. “We have students that will go on and become doctors and engineers and some that will run their own landscaping businesses. Yet they all find a passion for the hands-on art and science of Horticulture. It’s an opportunity for students to explore a passion that they could do for the rest of their lives.”