By Ryan Cornell
MOUNT JACKSON -- While most kids help out around the house by doing the dishes or the laundry, Zack Hensley pitches in by fixing blown fuses and other electrical problems.
Recently, he installed new lighting and 20 48-inch fans in his family's three chicken houses in Mount Jackson.
Next month, Hensley, 18, a senior at Stonewall Jackson and electricity student at Triplett Tech, is headed to the SkillsUSA national championship in Kansas City, where he will be competing against electricity students from across the nation.
At the state competition held in Roanoke this April, Hensley placed first to earn a spot at nationals. His classmates, Andrew Ross and Cole Johnston, placed third and fourth in the electricity category.
While the state competition took place over four hours, the national championship will test his abilities over a two-day span. The first day will be a safety and written test on the National Electrical Code, he said, and the second day will have him performing hands-on tasks such as bending conduit and running wire from different circuits through a service entry panel.
It's been nine years since the last local electricity student competed at the national level, according to teacher Tim Stephens.
"This class as a whole is very driven and competitive," he said. "Everyone wants to do better than the others and I haven't had that in a while."
He described Hensley as a very high achiever, also placing fifth in his class at Stonewall.
Hensley said he will be attending Virginia Tech this fall and plans to major in electrical engineering.
It was during a tour of Triplett Tech when Hensley was in middle school that he found his desire to work with electricity.
He recalled being inspired by the atmosphere in the classroom and the nature of working with your hands.
"And it's nice to have a fallback for work if your plans don't work out," he added.
He's already experienced a few minor shocks from doing repairs at home and said it "definitely gives you a respect for electricity."
Hensley will be competing at the national championships along with two other students from Triplett Tech -- baking student Cody Fitchett and culinary arts postgraduate student Jordan Palmer.
The SkillsUSA National Championships will be held from June 23-28, Stephens said.
"I tell people, until you have gone to one of these competitions, you can't imagine the adrenaline and excitement of just being there," he said.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org