Four Pocahontas County High School students took gold at the state SkillsUSA competition March 31 and April 1.
The four – seniors Drake Warder and Keith Harrah and sophomores Braeden Hicks and Trey Miller – worked together in the TeamWorks category and defeated eight teams to take first place.
Along with the team, junior Trevor McPeak placed third in the individual plumbing competition and junior Hunter Wilfong competed in individual carpentry and sophomore Cody Ryder competed in masonry.
The TeamWorks crew will represent West Virginia at the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky, in June.
The team prepared all year for the competition and worked together like a well-oiled machine when it came time to put their skills to the test.
In the TeamWorks competition, each student has a discipline – carpentry, masonry, plumbing or electrical – and they combine their talents to build a miniature dwelling.
“That’s virtually what we build every year,” Warder, the team’s carpenter, said. “First, we had to sit down in a meeting, get our blueprints, get details on what they were giving us – our materials list – and then we had five minutes to come up with a plan of what we were going to do. We had to tell the judges, and then they said get your materials and have at it.”
The students prepared for the competition by working closely with carpentry teacher Duane Gibson.
Gibson has a collection of blueprints from former competitions that he uses to get the students ready for what they will be required to accomplish at the state level.
“They’ll tell me we can keep our prints, so they bring back these prints and it gives us a base to go, ‘well this is what they did last year, let’s practice things like that,’” Gibson said. “They change the prints every year. There’s nuances they change. Basically, what they’re giving them is a short version of a little bit of floor framing, wall framing, roof framing, plumbing, masonry, electrical – a little touch of all of it just to test their skills.”
All the team members competed last year in different categories and so they knew what to expect for the most part, although, there were still a few butterflies the day of competition.
“You walk in there and see all the people, you get nervous,” Miller said.
“Once you get in your own little zone and you’re rolling, you don’t really pay attention to anybody other than yourselves and what other teams aren’t doing and what you’re doing that they’re not,” Warder added.
Warder, who was in the TeamWorks group last year, said he feels the team worked better together this year and that’s what led them to win.
“We all kind of watch each other and see – we all have class together so we all know who works well together and we just sort of flow together,” Hicks added. “We put each other where they’re best and help each other.”
There wasn’t a designated leader of the team. Instead, they each knew what was expected of them and they worked together to complete the structure in around six hours.
“It’s a little bit of barking orders, but eventually everybody knows what needs to happen,” Warder said.
What makes the win an even bigger reward for the students is the fact that they went up against teams with much larger vocational programs where each discipline is taught by its own teacher.
At PCHS, all the teaching is done by Gibson in his carpentry classes. As the students are working on a carpentry project, he tries to throw in lessons on masonry, electricity and plumbing in order to get them on the same level as other schools.
“Keith, our electrician, he was our green horn this year,” Warder said. “Keith never studied electricity until this past semester.”
As far as the national competition, the team plans to get together and “hit it hard” after spring break to get ready for June.
“Now that I think about it, yeah, I get a little bit nervous about the national competition, but if we do like we did up there, there’s nothing we can’t take on,” Warder said. “We’ve seen it all.”
While Warder and Harrah are preparing to graduate in a month, their team members are already thinking about next year’s competition. They’ve even decided that individual plumbing winner McPeak will join the team.
Although they did not place in the top three, Wilfong and Ryder both said they enjoyed the competition and look forward to trying again next year.
Wilfong had stiff competition in the individual carpentry category, but he held his own as a first-time participant.
“I was nervous when we got on the bus to go up there,” Wilfong said. “I was back in the corner, so it was actually a good spot because I was kind of by myself.”
Ryder, who competed in individual masonry was so focused on building a wall out of brick and block, that he managed to block out everything around him, including his teacher.
“I can tell you how focused they can get,” Gibson said, laughing. “I stood about five feet from Cody and took pictures while he was laying brick and block, and he didn’t know I was there.”
“You really focus on what you’re doing,” Ryder said. “You just don’t pay attention to anything.”
Wilfong said he hopes to stick with the carpentry category while Ryder is considering his turn in plumbing.
Whether they bring home first place, third place or no place, Gibson is proud of the students because they take the initiative to put in a lot of extra time to hone their crafts and represent their school and state.
“For these guys to compete and win medals against schools that have all these classes, it just shows a lot of drive and determination,” Gibson said.
Gibon is currently raising funds to take the TeamWorks students to the national competition. Those interested in making a donation may contact him at 304-799-6565.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org