West Sound Tech students head to Kansas City for national competition

Group headed to national SkillsUSA competition.

A quartet of auto collision repair students from West Sound Technical Skills Center are headed to the 44th annual SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Conference, scheduled for June 24-27 in Kansas City, Mo.

More than 13,000 students, teachers, businessmen and school administrators will gather for the week-long event, as the nation’s top high school and college minds square off.

“It’s quite an experience,” West Sound Tech’s collision repair instructor Kelly Sample said. “It’s kind of like getting a football team ready for state.”

SkillsUSA, a nonprofit organization formerly known as Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA), has served high school and college students seeking careers in technical, trade and skilled service occupations since 1965. Organized into 54 state and territorial associations, SkillsUSA has served more than 9.6 million members since 1965.

A highlighting event of the year, the Leadership and Skills Conference offers students a chance to earn Proficiency Competency Certificates in their respective fields while flexing their vocational muscles.

“That’s something they can really use when they get out of high school,” Sample said of the certificates.

Jeff Jones, Keagan Crosswhite, Travis Robocker and Steven Sugden, all Sample’s students, will represent West Sound at the championships.

“They’re a dynamic group of kids,” Sample said.

With scholarships from Wyoming Tech already locked up, Jones and Crosswhite will look to notch one last accomplishment before post-secondary school begins.

Jones, a senior at North Kitsap High School, will compete in auto refinishing while Crosswhite, a senior at North Mason High School, will take to collision repair. Both earned first-place finishes in the same events at a previous state competition in Olympia.

“It was pretty cool, let me tell you,” Sample said of the state wins. “It was a lot of work.”

Meanwhile, Robocker, a junior at Central Kitsap High School, will be in the action skills competition, an event he too won at state.

“He’s worked really, really hard at it,” Sample said. “He’s got a great attitude (and) comes to school everyday ready to do what he’s gotta do to get through the day.”

Bainbridge High School’s Steve Sugden, a junior, also will make the journey to nationals to compete in the job readiness event.

“It’s quite an experience,” Sample, who has never had four students make it to nationals, said of the event. “I think I’m gonna be running around quite a bit.”

West Sound sent two students to nationals in 1994, but hasn’t had such a large representation since.

North Kitsap junior Ken Boeckle and Gig Harbor senior Taylor Medlock, while not qualifying for nationals, placed second and third respectively in collision repair at state, joining Crosswhite to sweep the event for West Sound.

“It was just amazing,” Sample said of going first, second and third at state.

West Sound’s Bremerton campus serves eight school districts, including Bremerton, and offers students an opportunity to meet their area counterparts.

“It’s a central (location) school,” Sample said. “In that respect it’s nice because the students can network.”

The two-year collision repair technology program offers students hands-on training in frame repair, parts replacement, glass replacement and auto detailing with an emphasis on shop safety, industry expectations and developing leadership skills, Sample said.

“I motivate them in any way I can,” Sample said. “Different kids are motivated in different ways.”

The program prepares students for careers in auto body repair, glass installation, service estimation, automotive detail and other auto-related occupations.

Now in his 17th year at West Sound, Sample has learned the ins and outs of teaching and how to approach each student.

“I’ve learned how to pick out their personalities and figure out what motivates them,” he said. “I take every roadblock out of their way that I can.”

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