JACKSON TWP.  Jackson High School’s horticulture class was ready to compete, and they came home with the gold from the Landscape Olympics on Nov 1 and 2. Not only did it come home with the team championship, Jackson also came away with two top individual awards. Trace Thomas earned first place in the state and Ben Chapman earned fifth.

The Landscape Olympics is an Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association event hosted by the Ohio State University at its Wooster ATI campus. More than 230 students from 20 schools across the state compete in 12 events, including plant identification, compact excavator, skid steer operation, plant and hardscape installation, landscape maintenance, irrigation, truck and trailer maneuverability, cost estimating, low-voltage lighting and turf-grass science.

The awards presented at the competition include gold, silver and bronze medals for each event as well as awards for the top 10 individuals and top five teams.

Jackson horticulture class teacher Roy Dria said this year the team was determined to win the top team in the state.

"This is the third year we’ve competed. Last year the class took third place and they set a goal to do better this year and they outperformed all the other schools," Dria said. "We placed in the top three in nine out of the 12 categories. This is a great competition to challenge my students to reach a new level of skills in the landscape industry. It validates how well they are doing and how ready they are to get out and work in the industry."

A complete list of medalists from Jackson High School’s horticulture class includes:

- Ben Chapman - Gold in Compact Excavator Operation, with a perfect score and time as the tie-breaker

- Trace Thomas and Keegan Minard, Gold in Hardscape Installation, with a perfect score

- Ian Poling and Austin Artimez (from Lake High School but are part of the JHS horticulture class), Gold in Irrigation Assembly & Trouble Shooting, with a perfect score

- Trace Thomas and Ben Chapman, Gold in Landscape Maintenance Operations, with a perfect score

- Trace Thomas, Keegan Minard, and Ben Chapman, Silver in Landscape Plant Installation

- Courtney Espenschied, Gold, Tara Klingenberger, Silver, and Hannah Wisniewski, Bronze for a Jackson sweep in the Plant Identification category

- Alex Haymaker, Silver in Skid Steer Operation  

- Alex Haymaker and Brady Scheetz, Bronze in Truck & Trailer Operation  

- Courtney Espenschied, Ian Hawkins, Matt Morrow, and Brady Scheetz, Silver in Turf-Grass

The students were all thankful to Dria for getting them to where they are with their knowledge and skills.

"It was a good experience, and everyone put forth a good effort," Thomas said. "We want to thank Mr. Dria because we wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. We also want to thank all or our sponsors who helped us get there and who came over to help our class get to this point."

Dria said that many family members also attended the competition to support the students.

"Winning this competition helped all of us realize the potential we have when we work hard," Wisniewski said.

The students felt that the time they had to practice was vital to winning top team.

"The time we had to prepare and all of the practice we did is what I think was key this year to our success," said Chapman. "We had two to three weeks to prepare with hands-on practice. It’s important to find your passion and go for it and that will lead to happiness."

Chapman also thanked his teacher, family and friends for their support. Espenschied, from the plant identification team, also belives the hands-on practice made a difference. She and her team members spent time looking at live samples of plants to prepare for their competition.

"Working as a team was important," she said. "We recognize each other’s flaws and as a team we helped each other study to overcome the flaws. Winning was great, but it was really about the connections we made at the event and being on such a beautiful campus were really the most important aspects of the competition."

Austin Artimez was on the irrigation team with Thomas and he believes the time the team took to practice was important to winning.

"The irrigation specialists who work in the field came in to help us practice and it really did make a difference for the team," he said.

The team earned a $1,500 cash prize to use how it sees fit. Dria said the class hasn’t made a final decision on spending the money but it is leaning toward purchasing toolboxes filled with tools related to the industry.

Thomas also earned a $100 for his first-place win and Dria couldn’t be prouder of his students.

"Almost all of the students could have walked out of the competition with a job. Many of our industry sponsors tell me to send the students over to their company to talk about a job. Many of the students already work in the industry. We all want to thank all of the sponsors, the families and friends of the student. Their support is vital to our success."