Morrill's Sydney Smith wins Nebraska Junior Duck Stamp contest

"Wood Ducks" by Sydney Smith took Best in Show in the Nebraska Junior Duck Stamp competition.

A young artist from Morrill earned the top spot out of more than 350 entries in the Nebraska Junior Duck Stamp content.

Sydney Smith, 15, earned Best in Show with her acrylic painting “Wood Ducks.”

“I was pretty excited,” Smith said.

For the competition, artists submit a piece of artwork that features at least one duck, with the hope that it will become the next Junior Duck Stamp.

This was the Morrill High School student’s third time competing in the contest, which has taken place for more than 20 years.

“I wanted to do it seventh and eighth grade year, but I was too busy,” Smith said. “This year, my schedule was a little different. I thought, ‘I haven’t done that for forever and it was so much fun.”

She also missed seeing her teacher, Mary Hunt, of World of Arts and Music.

“I started working with Sydney when she was 12,” Hunt said. “I’ve always been impressed by her.”

Hunt said Smith is inquisitive and quick to pick up on things.

“She just has a different perception of art than other kids I’ve seen,” Hunt said. “She’s critical of herself, so she tries really hard.”

Artwork entered into the contest must feature a species of North American geese, ducks or swans, said Hunt.

“I did a male and a female wood duck,” Smith said. “They’re always colorful, so you get to mix paint that’s not just browns, grays and whites.”

Her painting features two ducks, going above the one duck requirement.

“For the first couple of years, it’s recommended you stick with one duck, because it’s easier,” Smith said. “Once you’ve been doing it awhile, it’s better to go with two ducks. This was my first year doing two ducks in one painting.”

She said it was challenging, but she was pleased with the result.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the contest had to be judged online by conversationalist Tyler Patrick, Fish and Wildlife project leader Brian DeVries, artists Michele Denton and Rod Clause, and Stephanie Coley, program director at West Nebraska Arts Center.

“This is the first time the judging event was held virtually,” Lydia Patrick, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said.

Patrick said judges were looking for authenticity of the subject including anatomical aspects and a fitting backdrop.

“For instance, a duck species found in Hawaii with a background that looks like habitat in our area would probably not move very high in the judging process,” Patrick said.

There are contests in all 50 states, with winners moving up to the national competition.

If Smith’s painting comes in first in the national contest, her artwork will be used to make the 2020-2021 Junior Duck Stamp. Duck Stamps are $5 and support conservation education.

Additionally, Smith would receive $1,000 as well as a trip to Washington D.C. with a parent or teacher.

“I’m so excited for her,” Hunt said. “She deserves this, she’s worked really hard.”

This is the second year one of Hunt’s students took best in show, and she couldn’t be happier about having another win this year.

“I’ve been working with kids for years,” Hunt said. “It’s always been one of my goals to have kids from this area win. That will continue to be my goal.”

Hunt helps lead an environmental art program, which is how many students get involved in the Duck Stamp contest.

“Every kid can be successful at this,” Hunt said.

The Nebraska Arts Council and Fish and Wildlife both provided funding to help with the environmental art program and an exhibit of the top 36 entries.

Initially, the exhibit was to be set up at WNAC, but COVID-19 has the center shut down. Instead the pieces will be displayed in the windows of World of Arts and Music, 1814 Broadway in Scottsbluff. She hopes to have the display up by the end of the week.

All of the top 36 pieces of artwork will be displayed, along with the entries by Hunt’s other students. Hunt had several students place in the top 36, and more in the top 100.

“To get any kind of award is pretty special,” Hunt said. “All of my kids got awards. I was a little in shock, but not entirely, because I’ve got great kids to work with.”

Duck Stamp contest award winners from the Panhandle:

1st Place - Group 1 (Grade K-3)

Adrian Anguiano — Bayard

Braxton Meisner — Scottsbluff

Lexxie Fillingham — Mitchell

1st Place - Group 2 (Grade 4-6)

Rowynne Cardiff — Gering

Hallie Clemens — Scottsbluff

Maxen Dietrich — Mitchell

1st Place - Group 3 (Grade 7-9)

Sydney Smith – Morrill (Best of Show)

Katie Hoevet —


1st Place - Group 4 (Grade 10-12)

Virginia Herboldsheimer — Potter

2nd Place - Group 1 (Grade K-3)

Autumn Richardson — Hay Springs

Paizlee Thomas — Mitchell

Kyli Klingsporn — Mitchell

2nd Place - Group 2 (Grade 4-6)

Ever Peters — Hay Springs

Emily Forney — Hay Springs

2nd Place - Group 3 (Grade 7-9)

Aria Schneider —


Sierra Robinson —


Anneka Williams — Scottsbluff

3rd Place - Group 1 (Grade K-3)

Taylor Reisig – Morrill

Lyndie Fillingham — Mitchell

3rd Place - Group 2 (Grade 4-6)

Emma Albrecht — Hay Springs

Angel Avalos de la Cruz — Gordon

3rd Place - Group 3 (Grade 7-9)

Zanizeah Chavez — Mitchell

Honorable Mentions:

Group 1 (K-Grade 3)

Cambry Weinmaster — Mitchell

Blair Meisner —


Bentley Palmer —

Hay Springs

Jane Gaswick —


Gabriella Schumacher — Mitchell

Miranda Smith —


Dutton VanDyk — Mitchell

Maxwell Wellnitz — Hay Springs

Vivian Cortier —

Hay Springs

Gracie Vesper —


Kort Dierksen — Hay Springs

Willow Ferrerya — Gering

Devani Frerichs — Kimball

Ellerie Davis — Hay Springs

Addison Heiting — Gordon

Hunter Hughes — Crawford

Group 2 (Grades 4-6)

Alaina Raymer — Hay Springs

Reese Simonson — Gordon

Mason Pitts — Lyman

Millie Hughes —


Baxter Reece — Harrison

Aubry Anderson — Hay Springs

Hunter Thies — Hay Springs

Rowan Simonson — Gordon

Jeanette Rodriguez — Gordon

Alexandra Galloway — Mitchell

Kathryn Cox —


Jacee Rhodes —


Taylor Kreman —


Kya Binger — Hay Springs

Kaytee Kaiser — Hay Springs

Group 3 (Grades 7-9)

Katherine Carrizales — Gering

Alice Tullis —


Danica Running Hawk — Gordon

Crimsun Hotz –


Logan Monroe — Marsland

Lily Kadolph — Gering

Aubri Marino —


Holly Begay — Gordon

Ciara Carbajal —


Camryn Servin —


Lisette Rios — Gering

Aaron Rawlings — Gering

Emma Martins —


Group 4 (Grades 10-12)

Mirka Anguiano — Bayard​

Maunette Loeks

Digital News Editor/Content Manager


1405 Broadway

Scottsbluff, NE 69361

(308) 632-9054 – Office

Twitter: @mloeks


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Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at

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