Encountering Ecology

Three teams qualify for State Ecology Meet.


Photo used with permission from Ernie Miller Nature Center

1st place team: Logan Penny, Lucy Berry, Kara Tompkins, Luke Allen

On Wednesday, October 26, eleven environmental education students attended the 2022 Regional Eco-Meet at Ernie Miller Nature Center. They were split into 3 teams and placed in the top 3 spots, each team qualifying for the state competition.

Kansas eco-meets are sponsored by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, local conservation societies, and other nonprofit organizations. The top three teams at each regional competition advance to the state meet, where they have the opportunity to earn scholarships.

Each team competes in 3 disciplines: a scavenger hunt, an interpretive skit, and ecology exams. During the scavenger hunt, students must work together to identify plants and small animals that are native to the surrounding area. They are awarded points based on how many organisms they identify within a 30 minute time limit.

“The scavenger hunt was probably my favorite,” junior Kara Tompkins said.

The interpretive skit is written and prepared by each team before the eco-meet. Competitors must choose a Kansas plant or animal to portray. They must educate the audience about their organism’s habitat, physical characteristics, nutrition requirements, and reproductive cycle. Each team member is required to participate, and teams are graded on a variety of factors, including accuracy, stage presence, and costuming.

“It’s difficult to write a story that includes your plant or animal’s reproductive cycle,” junior Lucy Berry said. “I’d say it definitely pushed our creativity.”

Lastly, each competitor takes two written exams, one over a specific habitat and another over a discipline of animal study. Test-takers must decipher audio of animal calls, identify specimens, and analyze live organisms. Judges average the top three individual scores for each team and add it to their total score. Additionally, the top two scorers on each test can qualify for the state meet individually. Juniors Luke Allen and Kara Tompkins qualified for state on the Shortgrass Prairie and Ornithology exams, respectively.

On Thursday, November 3, all eleven eco-meet competitors will attend the state competition at Camp Woods YMCA in the Flint Hills. Each team will be looking to continue South’s legacy of success. In the thirteen years it has participated, Shawnee Mission South has had 9 regional champions and twenty-four state-qualifying teams, three of which were state champions.

“It’s awesome to see the students get excited about what questions they got right and how they can improve,” said environmental education teacher and eco-meet coach PJ Born. “The meets allow them to be challenged and share that excitement.”