It appears they were over-prepared and it cost them dearly.
The Thomson High School construction team traveled to Kansas City, Mo., last week to compete in the national Skills USA competition.
The TeamWorks team -- Jackson Reddick, Brandon Carlton, Bu Cowart and Gill Usry -- placed first in the state in March. Sophomore Brett Allen Jenkins placed first in the state in plumbing. Those first place state finishes earned them the privilege of competing nationally against the top students from every state.
"The level of competition was well above the state and region contests," Brett said. "And it was neat with everything going on in one big room, the size of 16 football fields. There was a lot of pressure."
Thomson High School construction instructor Barry Arrington had been coaching Brett for the plumbing competition, using Mr. Arrington's experiences from previous national competitions. But at the last minute this year, the project completion time was shortened by two hours. Brett was unable to make up for the loss of time.
"He was concentrating on quality, and his quality was head and shoulders above all the others," Mr. Arrington said. "If he'd had another hour, he'd have finished it. But when we've been practicing, he's been pacing himself according to last year's times. I believe next year, he'll go back and bring it home."
Brett admitted he wasn't fast enough because he was concerned with accuracy. Because he didn't finish, he didn't place at all. But, he still won $800 worth of tools and gift cards. And, he gained new experience.
"I learned how to adjust to new plans and a different way of doing things," Brett said. "I learned to cut the copper pipes with a power cutter, and it was a lot quicker. It was a good learning experience."
Mt. Arrington said he usually places younger students in the individual competitions to give them the experience, then puts them together to form a team for TeamWorks the next year. But he won't do that with Brett, even though it's what the construction teacher wants. "He's got that drive, now," Mr. Arrington said. "He wants to win that plumbing competition really bad. So, I'll let him take it next year, and I'll have to find somebody else for the team."
This year's TeamWorks group also didn't place because of their own great expectations. This year's project was a washroom/laundry room with washer and dryer and laundry sink. Even though their project time was shortened, the team made it through the first day according to schedule.
During the presentation part of the competition, the students had to estimate time sheets, showing how they would divide their time to complete the project.
"The judges said we were the best they'd seen with that," Gill said. "We pretty much nailed that."
But, on the second day of competition, they were given the wrong J-channel to secure the siding around the outside of the room.
"We figured it was a new kind that they wanted us to figure out how to use. It took us an hour to realize that it was simply the wrong one. No one else had the same one we did. We almost made it work, though," Brandon said with a smile.
Mr. Arrrington said the competition routinely uses new products to make the projects a bigger challenge. The students thought they were working with a new product. They ended up having to cut their siding twice, so they were unable to finish in the required time.
"It would've been nice to win, but we did a great job anyway," Jackson said.
They also gained some experience in the kitchen. After traveling 900 miles one way to get to the competition, the team discovered sweet tea does not exist above the Mason Dixon Line.
"The hotel attempted to get us some, but it was peach tea and it wasn't that good," Bu said. "We had to make our own."