Saturdays in the fall are dedicated to watching college football. I receive text alerts throughout the day with score updates, trade agreements and breaking news on everything from injury reports to coaching changes. In the summer, I even spent my week-long birthday vacation watching every televised Olympic event. You might say I like competitive sports. As the coordinator for the National Big Tree Program, I get to watch the competition between states unfold throughout the year. Yes, the National Register of Big Trees is a friendly competition to find the biggest of each tree species in the country, but for me, the journey to crown and dethrone champions has become a sporting event.

I am a cheerleader for big tree hunters who have spent more than twenty years looking for their first national champion and I enjoy when a species without a champion finally makes the list. Whether it’s watching the Fab Five women’s gymnastics team win the gold or having to deliver the heartbreaking news that someone’s tree has been booted off the National Register, there are stories behind the rise and fall of a champion. Here’s a recap of some of my highlights from 2012:

  • Hawaii

Hawaii’s Big Tree Program is in full swing. Hawaii petitioned to have 16 of their state’s native trees recognized and American Forests listened. We no longer use Dr. Elbert Little’s 1979 publication of native and naturalized species, which excluded species found in Hawaii, as the primary source for our list of eligible species. Many may think the Aloha State has an unfair advantage by having trees that aren’t found on the mainland, but they’re part of the United States and should be recognized. Good job for kicking down the down the door. We look forward to seeing more champs on the list.

National champion Acacia Koa. Credit: Hawaii Big Tree Program

  • Kenai birch

After losing the Alaska paper birch to Washington in 2011 and the feltleaf willow to the 10-year rule, Alaska almost lost its place on the register in 2012. But, thanks to a summer school class of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, the country’s only Kenai birch nominee kept Alaska on the list.

A moose standing at the base of the national champion Kenai birch. Credit: Don Bertolette

  • California’s new mega-tree

This year, California produced a new mega-tree (tree with more than 650 points) and the biggest sycamore on the fall register — a California sycamore with 744 points. I’m continuously amazed at the discovery of these giants. It’s like having a 7-foot basketball player with the skills of Michael Jordan walk onto your team. Where did they come from?

National champion California sycamore. Credit: American Forests

  • Rio Grande cottonwood

I literally gasped when I read the stats on New Mexico’s Rio Grande cottonwood nominee for the fall register. I double-checked the photos submitted to see if there could be any controversy, but it was indisputable. Texas had already said goodbye to one long-standing champion after 35 years due to the 2011 Rockhouse Fire. Now, their replacement has been dethroned after only one year when New Mexico’s tree proved almost 50 points bigger. I think this should be a new state rivalry.

National champion Rio Grande cottonwood. Credit: New Mexico Big Tree Program

  • Ohio buckeye

I understand the significance of the Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry. My brother went to OSU. He’s a Buckeye for life. But, how would Brutus, Ohio State’s mascot, react in finding out that the new national co-champion Ohio buckeye is in Kentucky? Another year Ohio goes without having its state tree’s champ at home.

National co-champion Ohio buckeye. Credit: American Forests

  • Big tree hunters

Your nomination isn’t just a record in a database. I enjoy the stories you share about your adventures and keep my fingers crossed that no one nominates a bigger tree until the next register update. There were a few heartbreaks for nominators who had their first national champion listed in the spring register, then dethroned six months later in the fall. However, what I love about you is your resilience to the agony of defeat and determination to keep looking for the next biggest tree. From the veterans to the rookies, you make my job as the program coordinator enjoyable.

Arizona big tree hunters standing in front of the national champion Fremont cottonwood. Credit: American Forests

I look forward to more victories and defeats in 2013. Continue to share your stories and photos of your favorite big trees and keep looking up!