Victoria students head to national welding competition (video)
April 13, 2013 at 11:05 p.m.
Updated April 12, 2013 at 11:13 p.m.
Sparks bounced off metal plates and illuminated the air behind black curtains inside the welding classroom.
A soft laughter and excitement burst from a table encircled by Victoria school district high school students tinkering with machinery.
With his Skills USA gold medal tossed over his shoulder, senior Grant McGehee, 18, was shielded from the flames shooting out from the welding torch.
His classmates and welding fabrication teammates Jeffery Newport, 18, and Tyler Hessler, 17, both seniors, were preparing for their trip to Kansas City in June when they'll be competing in a national welding competition for the first time.
Hessler was unable to make it to the state competition due to a sudden but brief illness but will still be traveling with his teammates to nationals.
All three received a Victor Medalist 350 welding kit, valued at $254.75 each, for placing first in the welding fabrication category.
Yellowed pieces of metal lay defenseless on the black workshop tables.
At state, Newport said, they beat the other teams at a timed competition where he and McGehee constructed a receiver hitch ice chest rack for the back of a truck in under the allowed six hours.
They did it in 5 1/2.
"We just looked at the prints and what processes we needed to finish it," Newport said. "We build stuff like that here all the time."
Next to the aspiring chemical engineer was a seemingly basic barbecue pit he constructed during one of his first years in the class.
"We sell a lot of what we make here," Newport said. "That way the underclassmen have more to work with."
Although all three of the advancing champions said they're interested in careers outside of welding, forging materials into objects will always remain close to their hearts.
"Welding keeps the world together," McGehee said.
Instructor John Wright joined the school district three years ago after leaving the professional field due to elongated work hours that left him with little to no time off throughout the year.
Wright said that while students like Newport, McGehee and Tyler are more likely to end up going to a four-year university, many of his students will not.
"The majority of my students aren't going to college," Wright said. "And this allows them to get into a professional enriched field without a college degree."
Last year, about 10 out of the 14 students in his class found professional welding jobs soon after graduating, said Wright.
And out of the 56 students currently enrolled, five have taken a basic certification exam, and four have passed.
"I really enjoy teaching," Wright said. "This right here is the fruits of my labor."