The competition for SkillsUSA may have been conducted differently, but the results were the same: Bartow County students came out on top.
Five TeamWorks members and a plumbing student from Adairsville High and a masonry student from Cass High won state titles in the virtual SkillsUSA Georgia State Leadership and Skills Conference earlier this month and would’ve been on their way to compete at nationals in Kentucky had COVID-19 not canceled it.
Adairsville High’s TeamWorks members – team leader/senior Andrew Bearden, electrical; senior Vidal Diaz-Sandoval, plumbing; junior Emanuel Lopez, masonry; freshman JoBeth O’Kelley, carpentry; and sophomore Eduardo Lopez, alternate – won their eighth state title in nine years while junior Hunter Blackmon snagged his first state championship in plumbing and Cass sophomore Damien West won the state in the masonry category.
SkillsUSA is a national career and technical student organization serving high school and college students enrolled in training programs in technical, skilled and service occupations. SkillsUSA Georgia focuses on serving high school students who are involved in architecture, construction, communication, cosmetology, public safety and transportation pathways.
“SkillsUSA gives [students] more than just a grade in a class to strive for,” AHS adviser Barry Arrington said. “Competitive events add a facet to the program that is not accomplished any other way. That’s one reason that sports in school are so popular; they add to the high school experience. SkillsUSA is to multiple construction programs as athletic programs are to the rest of the school.”
Arrington said he was “very happy [his TeamWorks team] won again.”
“This year with COVID-19, we took an exam to determine the state champions,” he said. “We won both contests we were in, TeamWorks and plumbing. This makes six years in a row and eight out of the last nine years we have won the state in TeamWorks and two years in a row we have won plumbing."
He also said he’s been “lucky as an instructor to have excellent students that put in the extra work to put themselves over the top.”
“Winning the state championship is not easy at all, much less years in a row,” he said. “So many things have to go just right to accomplish it. My hat’s off to these students.”
Bearden, 18, was happy with the results of the exam that gave his team another state championship.
“It feels really good, and I’m glad that my teammates and I were able to show our talent, even if it was in a totally different way than what we practiced,” he said.
The state competition was scheduled for March in Atlanta, but due to the pandemic, it was changed to an online test, Arrington said.
“They just took the exam during a one-week window the first week of May,” he said. “They took it on their school laptops during that time frame. They prepared by studying more in depth the standards outlined in the TeamWorks contest guidelines and the lessons that I put on Schoology, our digital classroom.”
Arrington was impressed with Blackmon’s performance at the state competition, for which he qualified by winning a region contest where he had to plumb a toilet and sink.
“This being Hunter’s first year, it is truly amazing,” he said. “Hunter had to take an exam as well. He worked and studied very hard.”
“I am very proud of myself for accomplishing my goal to win state plumbing,” Blackmon said.
Cass adviser Jerome Black was pleased with the way Damien performed in his first state competition in masonry.
“Damien wining the state championship this year proves that construction is truly 90% mental and 10% physical,” he said. “Due to the pandemic, the state competition was completely online, completely academic. And Damien proved his academic ability. Of course, I believe had he been able to physically compete, it would have truly shown his ability.”
The 15-year-old said winning the state masonry title was a “very humbling experience.”
“It felt amazing when I received the news that I had won first place,” he said. “It felt like something good had come from this pandemic we are in. All the hard work had paid off."
Due to social-distancing requirements and school shutdowns, the state winners were determined by a 100-question test that had to be completed in one hour, Damien said.
“The new guidelines for the competition test was that the test had to be completed between April 27 and May 1 and submitted online through the SkillsUSA website,” he said. “I completed the test from home on May 1 during our digital learning days.”
Arrington had hoped to see his TeamWorks team extend its streak of Top 10 finishes at nationals – a championship, three bronze medals and fourth-, eighth- and ninth-place finishes since 2012 – with another title and to see Blackmon win a national championship, but the pandemic will keep that from happening this year.
“Unfortunately, they will not get the opportunity to compete there this year,” he said.
Needless to say, the state winners were disappointed that they wouldn’t be traveling to Louisville in June.
“I wish we could have competed at nationals since it was my senior year, but nonetheless, I am happy with what my team and I accomplished,” Bearden said.
“I wish I had the opportunity to represent my school, Adairsville High School, and Georgia at nationals,” Blackmon said.
Damien said he was “a little bit bummed” when he found out the state winners were “probably not going to be rewarded for our hard work with a prize or national competition.”
Two Bartow County College and Career Academy cosmetology students also won silver medals at the state SkillsUSA competition.
Kate Faulk and Isabel Diaz took second place in cosmetology and nail care, respectively.