Practice makes perfect as Huskies win state forestry title

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home High School won the state championship in forestry April 26-27 at the Hopkins Demonstration Forest in Oregon City.

Sophomore Becky Belcher and senior Zech Brown won the top spot as individuals, winning overall Jill and Jack.

“I was working toward it,” Belcher said. When she heard she won it, “It was a relief. I’ve been practicing a lot more than just scheduled practices.”

Brown was her partner for most events, she said, and they practiced together constantly.

“The overall Jack, I had some tough competition this year,” Brown said. “Taking the overall Jack, it was a nice feeling to do it my senior year.”

Winning state was “cool for the new coach” and for Brown, he said. It was his first.

He and Belcher worked their tails off, he said. “We wanted to bring points to the table. What Becky and I did was work on the field, off the field and in the classroom.”

They had fun with it and enjoyed encouraging their teammates as well as their opponents, Brown said.

The key for Belcher was “not stressing out,” Belcher said. Over two days, stressing out, “you do worse and worse.”

She finished sixth in choker setting, usually one of her first-place events, she said. “I was pretty bummed.”

She couldn’t let it stress her out, she said. “I looked on the positive side.”

With 99 points, she finished 20 points ahead of her closest competitor, Belcher said. “I thought it was going to be really close because a lot of the other girls stepped up this year.

Brown said Christian Black, who finished third among the boys, pushed him to do better.

“It was a great team,” Brown said. “It was a fun year.”

Sweet Home finished with 378 points. Clatskanie finished second with 262 points, and Philomath finished third with 147 points. Teams collected points based on how well individuals placed in technical and physical events.

“We won pretty good,” said Blake Manley, natural resources teacher and forestry coach. “Points can go quickly the other direction. One event and second place, all of the sudden it can go the other direction.”

Once results started coming out for events, Manley realized his team was doing better than he expected, accumulating more points.

It was a lot of fun to watch them compete,” Manley said. “The Hopkins Demonstration Forest is a good venue for it.”

What made it more fun is that Sweet Home wasn’t supposed to win it.

Manley has coached a state championship football team, he said. That team was undefeated headed into playoffs – It was supposed to win it all.

Sweet Home took 14 competitors to the state forestry competition, Manley said. Clatskanie had 34.

“You’ve just got more chances (with bigger numbers),” Manley said. “We were not supposed to win that. But everybody chipped in. We had people that placed that weren’t necessarily supposed to.”

People like David Briggs placed fourth in the ax throw, Manley said, but he wasn’t expected to.

Dacotah Pennington and Christina Belcher placed in cable splicing, adding team points that made a difference, Manley said. Performances across the board, with participants setting personal records put the team over the top.

Becky Belcher just missed overall technical forester by four points, and the team did really in technical forestry, events like map reading, timber cruising and written expression, on April 26, Manley said. “They came back on Saturday, and it was amazing. They really worked hard.”

Becky Belcher said that was critical to the victory.

Her team was working for the top spot, she said, but they didn’t think they would do it.

When Sweet Home was named the winner, “everyone just stood up, everybody’s mouth was open,” Belcher said. “I was shocked.”

Her team was seriously outnumbered. Some events are limited to the top two or three competitors during the season while other events are open to anyone.

Clatskanie and other teams had a few participants who scored in everything, while Sweet Home placed in events across the board.

With the exception of Becky Belcher, the top five Sweet Home competitors are seniors, Manley said. “We’ve got some good ones coming back, but we’ve got some recruiting to do. It’s tough to defend a title, and I look forward to the challenge.”

Belcher said that all of the girls who finished behind her will be seniors next year, and she expects them to be a challenge.

“It’s going to be hard,” Belcher said. “I’m losing my partner. Practice is key. I did it once. I can do it again.”

“I think we’ve got a couple of leaders,” said Brown, who will graduate this year. “I think they’ll do well.”

Even if Sweet Home doesn’t place first, he said, “I’m sure they’ll be placing throughout the year.”

Lace-Anna Shiffert finished third overall with 69 points. Christina Belcher was seventh overall with 34 points.

Among boys, Christian Black finished third with 54 points.

Manley said Brown was tough, competing through physical injuries.

Brown finished first in Jack cable splice, log scaling and hose lay. He was second in job interview, Jack-Jill cable splice, Jack crosscut, post and beam and power buck; third in timber cruising and first aid; fourth in pole climb and prepared speech; fifth in written expression; and sixth in tool identification.

Belcher was first in timber cruising, power buck, hose lay, compass and pacing, and arbor. She was second in ax throw, Jack-Jill cable splice and prepared speech; third in first aid and Jill crosscut; fourth in written expression and log roll; and sixth in choker setting.

Shiffert was first in hose lay, choker setting and pole climb. She was second in demo speech, Jack-Jill crosscut and first aid; third in Jill cable splice and written expression; fourth in job interview; and fifth in ax throw.

Black was fist in Jack cable splice and hose lay. He was second in Jack-Jill crosscut, Jack crosscut and log roll; third in arbor; and fourth in power buck.

Christina Belcher placed first in hose lay and ax throw. She was third in Jill cable splice and Jill crosscut, fourth in choker setting and sixth in Jack-Jill cable splice.

Colin Owens finished second in first aid, fourth in Jack crosscut and fifth in ax throw.

Dacotah Pennington finished sixth in Jack-Jill cable splice.

Sam Mitchell was fourth in power buck.

Jensen Damewood finished fourth in Jack crosscut.

Denae Pennington was fifth in arbor.

Briggs finished fourth in ax throw.

Garrett Gutierrez finished second in map reading.

Alex Miller, Tristin Lemmer and Wyatte Aiello competed.