Now, as a Bald Eagle Area science teacher and Envirothon co-adviser, his goal is to instill the will to win in his students, while teaching them to love the outdoors.
“I just want them to have the enjoyment I had, and incorporate all the things I learned,” Thompson said. “It’s important to combine the friendships and lessons learned from this, and find an understanding of the environment.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Bald Eagle Area won its 16th consecutive Centre County Envirothon competition at Bald Eagle State Park — making them the winningest school in the county.
Team “Tree Huggers” scored 325 of 500 points. Teams from Penns Valley and State College rounded out the top three highest scoring teams Wednesday.
“The mission is to win, but also enjoy it,” Thompson said. “Everyone has different study habits and approaches envirothon differently, but we’re out there all the time looking at new things, and taking the iPads and iPhones and taking pictures of trees and logging them into an app that identifies them, and we’re always learning.”
Bob Sweitzer, manager of the Centre County Conservation District, said Bald Eagle Area has won 25 county championships in the 31-year program history.
Envirothon is an outdoor environmental education competition for high school students. The team that accumulates the highest total scores is eligible to compete at the state level. That will be held next week at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.
The winning Pennsylvania team is then able to compete at the national competition in Springfield, Mo., in August.
The national competition was brought back this year after taking a yearlong hiatus, Sweitzer said.
Twelve five-member teams from Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley, State College and Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology participated in an exam at five stations including aquatic ecology, forestry, soils, land use and wildlife.
The theme this year was “urban and community forestry” that allowed students to delve into the importance of tree and plant life in urban settings, Sweitzer said.
“Trees are hard to maintain, but they’re important to urban settings because they make the areas look nice and can regulate the temperature during hot summers,” Sweitzer said. “Students study this topic and focus on community tree planning — not planting — for those reasons.”
Envirothon is an extracurricular activity at the districts, but some students said environmental topics are emphasized in science class and during other club activities.
Penns Valley sophomore Taran Rowles is also a member of FFA, where he attended a national competition with an emphasis on agronomy in October in Louisville, Ky.
A lot of what he learned from FFA carried over into envirothon, he said.
Rowles’s envirothon team, including seniors Trevor Heckman, Samantha Kelly and Kylie Orndorf, and freshman Abigail Miller, said the envirothon competition was mainly about having fun and taking advantage of outdoor education.
But Orndorf added that she joined for the first time this year as a way to get her feet wet in the earth sciences.
“I want to major in something environmental and this gives me a taste of some of that now,” she said.
Sweitzer said that by next month, he will collaborate with Bald Eagle State Park to start organizing next year’s event.
“We see this as a long-term program here in the county and hope to grow the program by involving more students,” he said.
The plan is to reach out to Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District and encourage them to participate in Centre County Envirothon, Sweitzer said.