A former champion is coming home to train more champions. Jason Brooks, a 1998 Thomson High graduate and winner of the Georgia Finals of the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Contest, will be the new auto shop teacher at THS next year. Mr. Brooks has been teaching at Evans High School for the past three years.
"I'm excited, very excited. I don't live but about three miles from the high school, so it beats the heck out of driving 25-30 minutes to Evans every day. I love it at Evans; they've got very nice people down there. I definitely would stay there, except I can't miss out on an opportunity to come back home," Mr. Brooks said.
Jason Brooks, the automotive instructor at Evans High School and a graduate of Thomson High School, has led his students to a second state championship in the Ford AAA Student Auto Skills Competition. He'll be returning to Thomson to take the place of the retiring Chan Drake.
Photo by Jim Blaylock/Morris News Service
Mr. Brooks will fill the opening left by Chan Drake, who is retiring in July after 20 years of teaching at Thomson. In those 20 years, students in Mr. Drake's class have won the state championship 15 times, and placed in the top 10 in the national competition five times.
THS did not enter the competition in 2006, because the national competition date falls after Mr. Drake's retirement.
"He's done such a great job there, and he's such a great teacher, and does well with the students, I don't think anybody will ever be able to fill his shoes, honestly," Mr. Brooks said of his former teacher. "It's definitely a job and a challenge, but I'm going to definitely try. I have definitely started something down there at Evans to prove that I have as good a chance as anybody to fill his shoes."
When Mr. Brooks started teaching at Evans, he said "the program was pretty much in the dumps." Last year, Mr. Brooks entered the state competition as an instructor for the first time, and his students took the state championship away from his former school.
"It felt good," he said. "Of course, I feel Drake would have loved to have won it, but I still think he felt like he won, because you know I'm a former student of his. He trained me back then, and I used his tactics to beat him."
Mr. Drake agreed that Mr. Brooks "learned all our tricks, but he has developed some new ones for himself." When he graduated from THS, Mr. Brooks got his associates degree in automotive technology from Spartanburg Technical College through Ford Asset, a scholarship program for winners of the state championship. Through the program, Mr. Brooks said he alternated eight weeks of going to school with eight weeks of working at Bobby Jones Ford in Augusta. After receiving his degree, he worked at Bobby Jones Ford for five more years, then came back to Thomson to work at Freedom Ford. Mr. Brooks said he was there a few months when he learned of the available auto instructor position at Evans High School in Martinez.
"I thought that was right up my alley, and I went and applied for the job and got it. I think a little bit of Drake's background and winning the contest like I did helped in ... getting the job," he said.
In addition to returning to his home roots, Mr. Brooks has returned to school for his bachelor degree in teaching. He has taken classes at the University of Georgia, and he will begin in the fall at Georgia Military College in Augusta. He resides in Thomson with his wife, Kelli, and their one-year-old son, London.
Mr. Drake is excited to have one of his own take his place when he retires.
Mr. Drake said an official from the state competition called him and said Mr. Brooks should be "your poster child, because it shows you can raise somebody that can beat everybody in the state not just as a student, but he can do it as a teacher, too."
"That's definitely the way for a teacher to retire," Mr. Drake said. "He's going to be a big hit here, and he's going to be a real addition to the staff. I am real proud of him."