Six Carroll County teen-agers boarded a plane for the 4-H National Congress in Chicago on Thursday, knowing they were among the top of their class in Maryland.
Three of them will return on Thursday, knowing they are tops in the nation.
Ashley Bair, Monica Feeser and Heather Hull all received scholarships and national recognition in their 4-H project areas at a banquet last night.
In addition, Heather was given the opportunity to compete for the Presidential Tray, the highest honor given in 4-H. She is one of two students from Maryland competing for the award.
"This is the first time we've had multiple national winners," said Robert Shirley, the Carroll County extension agent in charge of 4-H. "We are very excited.
"This is not only for those who won, the recognition and awards for the things they've done, but also for every one who volunteers and works with the program."
All 4-Hers choose a project area when they are 14 and become a senior member of the club, the students said.
Ashley, who was recognized for her work with gardening, said she chose that area because her mother owns a nursery that sells African violets. A senior at Westminster High, she plans to use her $1,000 scholarship at Bridgewater (Va.) College to pursue a degree in education.
Her scholarship was one of four given by the Ortho/Chevron company. "My mom was a teacher and I've had many opportunities to teach in 4-H," said the 18-year-old. "At 4-H Camp, I have a whole week to get to know the kids and teach them what I know."
For Monica, the decision to go into the beef category was easy. The Francis Scott Key junior lives with her family on a hog farm outside Taneytown. "I wanted to get into something different from my parents," she said. "I've shown at least 35 animals since I was 8."
Her first time in the ring was with a steer that had a tendency to kick, she recalled last week. "It never kicked at me, but I was afraid he might kick at someone else," said Monica, 16. "Other than that, I've gotten along with all my steers and heifers. I love them; they all have their own personalities."
Her scholarship, one of six given by Syntex Animal Health products, was for $1,500.
Heather's choice between dairy cattle and photography was a little more difficult. She, too, lives with her family on a farm and her father had shown dairy cattle when he was in 4-H.
But, eventually, photography won out for the Westminster High senior because she had taught herself the art through books and seminars.
"I didn't understand the financial aspects of dairy at 14," she said, adding that she has since learned the business. "I was confident in that area [photography] and became a leader as I went along."
Heather, 17, said she has not yet chosen a college, but hopes to use her $1,500 scholarship from Kodak to pursue a career that could involve photography, such as communications.
Kodak also gave five other scholarships, and each is renewable for $500 more after the student's second semester.
Heather was also the only one of the six to know she was a national winner before she left for Chicago because she would be competing for the Presidential Tray.
"They wanted to let me know so I could prepare for it," she said.
Once in Chicago, she had to go through two sets of interviews, each involving questions about herself and current events. For example, one question might be how she felt President-elect Clinton's policies might affect youth.
"From what I heard, they want to get to know you and like spontaneous answers," Heather said. "They just want to know how aware you are of the world and how well you communicate with others."
If she is one of the 12 students nationwide to win the Presidential Tray, Heather will receive a $1,500 scholarship from Reader's Digest.
The other three local students were: Shawnee Blauvelt, 15, who attended for her bicycle project; Dollie Tasto, 16, who attended for her achievements with crafts; and Michelle Zepp, 18, who went for her work in the achievement division.
For the students, the greatest honor was earning a trip to the yearly convention. "It doesn't really matter if we win a national award," said Ashley, before the group left for Chicago. "It would be nice to win a prize, but this [attending the convention] is the goal. We made the goal."