Delaware's Sussex Tech High School Builds Conservation Foundation

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By Michael Shea

Dave Waters has been an active Ducks Unlimited member since the early 1980s, serving in a variety of positions from chapter delegate to Delaware state shoot chairman, but his biggest success may have been through his side job as a substitute teacher at Sussex Technical High School in Georgetown, Delaware.

A vocational school not far from Rehoboth Beach, Sussex Tech offers majors such as carpentry and cabinetry, electronics, auto repair, and dental hygiene. It draws many students from surrounding agricultural communities.

"There are a lot of 'camo kids,' and as I met them, I found a great interest in wingshooting and clays shooting," Waters says. "I thought Ducks Unlimited would be a good fit here, and pursued it with school officials."

Three years later, Sussex Tech is home to Delaware's first DU Varsity chapter. Since the beginning, chapter membership has hovered around 20 to 25 students, most of whom volunteer at numerous events every year. The chapter has hosted two successful banquet-style dinners and provides ample support at the state's annual Greenwing Youth Conservation Festival.

Hunter Seaman, a junior at Sussex Tech and the current chapter chairman, has been involved since his freshman year. "I grew up with hunting dogs, doing field trials, and hunting rabbits with my grandfather and great grandfather, so I prefer hunting to most other things like clubs and sports," he says. "When I heard about Ducks Unlimited, I signed up right away."

The chapter has had several successful in-school events, like a hat day where students could wear their baseball cap all day after making a $1 donation to DU. There are plans in the works for a camo day, and maybe even a Ducks Unlimited dance later this year.

"There's a lot of pride in being a DU member," Seaman says. "We know that we are one of the few, and we know what we're doing-we have a conservation mission."

One chapter member enrolled in the school's graphic design program created a logo for the group. Now they have their own T-shirts and DU letterman jackets just like the baseball and football teams.

"We like to spread DU pride," Seaman says. "You can see it in our members, just how much it means to them. They're passionate about it."

This spring, the Sussex Tech chapter is running a poison bird sporting clays contest at the Greenwing conservation festival-three birds are tossed, but only two are shooters. The members also hope to tour an active DU conservation project site before school dismisses for the summer.

"I feel like our chapter can help DU grow in a positive way," Seaman says. "I love everything about DU. I love the paintings. I love the events. I love the fact that we're helping save wetlands."

According to DU Regional Director Tony Senn, that passion is the driving force behind any DU Varsity chapter. "There's no doubt about it-these kids are the future of what we do," he explains. "They're the ones that are going to carry the flag forward."

The kids of Sussex Tech will do just that, says Waters, who helped create the group.

"Beyond their carpentry, electrical, or auto repair education, these kids are getting a lesson in volunteerism," Waters explains. "They'll graduate ready to jump into a college DU chapter, or their local adult chapter, and be active, contributing members. They'll know how to work together and how to make a difference."