Masonry students earn first place wins at SkillsUSA

Triplett Tech masonry students Zach Hutchison, 19, left, and Jeremy Morris, 18, work on a chimney in the shop at the school in Mount Jackson on Wednesday. Morris won first place in masonry at the SkillsUSA state State Leadership Conference & Skills Championships held April 17-18 in Roanoke, and Hutchison won first place in brick laying. Josette Keelor/Daily

MOUNT JACKSON — At Triplett Tech in Mount Jackson, graduating high school with practical life skills is its own reward. Though earning a more tangible prize for one’s hard work is certainly welcome, too.

It was determination and accountability that drove seniors Jeremy Morris and Zach Hutchison to study masonry during their junior and senior years at Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg. It’s also what inspired them to compete and win at the 51st Annual 2015 State Leadership Conference & Skills Championships April 17-18 in Roanoke.

Morris, 18, took home a first place win in masonry, and Hutchison, 19, won first place in bricklaying. The category of masonry is part of the national competition, and Morris will compete in Louisville, Kentucky, June 22-27. Hutchison will also attend the competition.

Masonry instructor Gary Kibler said he wasn’t surprised his students did so well.

“Success is a product of hard work. That’s the way it is. It don’t happen by accident,” he said. “Hardworking people don’t miss opportunities.”

Morris competed last year too, earning a second place rating in masonry. He and Hutchison said they were happy to come in first this year but didn’t set out to win any awards when they decided to pursue the craft.

Both have family members in the trade and said they chose their career paths out of an interest each of them developed years ago.

“I like it,” Hutchison said. “It’s cool.”

Morris agreed: “I like this more than school.”

But the program isn’t for everyone, and Kibler said after two years in the program only five students are left from the 12 or 14 who started in their junior year. He said he usually loses about half his students from each graduating class because of the workload tech classes demand and because some students change their mind.

A two-year commitment is tough to make, he said, but the benefits make it worth the effort for those who know they’ve found their niche.

“They come to learn skills,” Kibler said. When students graduate, he said, “Not only are they educated, they know how to do something.”

Triplett students from Strasburg and Central High Schools also scored well in the SkillsUSA state competition.

Central senior Harold Wakeman placed second in the Electrical Construction Wiring Technical Test, and Strasburg senior Thomas Coates placed third. Carl Williams, a senior at Strasburg, placed third in Industrial Motor Control Wiring; and Strasburg senior Angus Shipe placed fourth.

All four students are in Tim Stephens’ electricity program.

Triplett Tech, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, makes more use of industry professionals than other schools might, said Principal Connie Pangle.

“A lot of our instructors, they’re from the industry,” she said. They choose to teach because they love what they do, “and the kids know that.”

“So it makes a big difference,” she said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com