McCann students show off technical skills, bring home medals from competition

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NORTH ADAMS — They weren't escorted home with a police motorcade or a siren-blaring fire engine brigade, but a group of McCann Technical School students recently returned to the Berkshires celebrating 14 precious medals between them, including seven gold in six events, at the state SkillsUSA competition.

"It feels awesome," said senior Aubrey Tetlow, of Williamstown. She took home gold in the carpentry division among 12 other competitors, including only a few other female carpenters.

Tetlow, a multisport athlete, is used to getting praise for her work on the basketball court and softball field, but she said some people don't understand what it's like for students to compete and be successful in technical and academic fields.

"Some people say, 'Oh, it's just Skills[USA].' But over the past few years at our school, we're really trying to talk about it with other students so they have a better understanding of the competition and try to promote it more now. In carpentry, our program has come such a long way," Tetlow said.

McCann Principal Justin Kratz said Tetlow is only the second student ever to win gold at states in carpentry from McCann. He noted that Nate Myers of Lanesborough, who took home gold in sheet metal, is now the state champion in that category two years running — and he's is only a junior.

Other gold winners from this year's SkillsUSA state competition included the 3D visualization and animation team of Joe Vigiard and Ethan Walden, of Adams; Cecilia Marszalek, of Windsor, in the category of freshmen sticker design; and post-secondary students Kenzie Oblisk, of Pittsfield, and Stephanie Shatford, of Adams, in the categories of dental assisting and job interview, respectively.

"This is amazing, amazing stuff," Kratz said. "I don't think people understand the magnitude — to be able to graduate and say you're the best in your respective field is huge."

The Massachusetts State Leadership and Skills Conference was held in Marlborough from April 26-28. It features the Massachusetts SkillsUSA Championships, an annual competitive showcase for students enrolled in vocational, technical and health education programs. Some 3,000 students, teachers, judges and field professionals gather for this event each year.

The competitions themselves include live construction, welding, drafting and other kinds of skills demonstrations, and are held in the gymnasiums, shops and auditoriums spread out between the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel, Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Upton and Keefe Technical School in Framingham.

The Eagle spoke with Tetlow, Myers, Vigiard and Walden in a small press conference recently at the school, during which the students explained the hours of competition they endured. In the carpentry and sheet metal competitions, students are given a standard set of blueprints and materials, then given the green light to build to the best of their abilities.

In the 3D visualization and animation competition, students had to use their software skills to simulate a Lego movie-style bank heist action scene, and had to create characters, the environment and all the scenic details and actions from what was basically a blank screen.

"Our event was one of the longest of the day," Vigiard said.

They created a dramatic glowing scene that involved a high-tech vault, a sneaky thief and an explosion.

"It's part technical, part creative," said Walden.

It was also six-hour ordeal that will make you never take all the teamwork that goes into an animating a movie for granted.

Vigiard and Walden said they divided the animation work between them, playing to their strengths.

"We have a lot of training in it," Walden said.

Tetlow's carpentry competition took place in a big gymnasium, and involved making a freestanding three-wall structure over the course of five hours, with dozens upon dozens of onlookers, from teachers and family members to prospective employers. Last year, Tetlow struggled with time management. This year, to train, she put herself through multiple time trials, and focused on getting her math and measurements right the first time.

"I was confident," she said. "Last year, I was here for the experience; this year, I was here to compete."

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Last year, she was the only female in the competition, but this year, there were four others.

"I was very happy," she said. "I'm very big on girls being in the trade and doing the same thing the guys do."

She says she loves the whole concept of the SkillsUSA, which includes local, state, national and international programs.

"I get to prove my worth to the world and represent McCann in the process," she said.

For Myers, SkillsUSA is a chance to reinforce what he's learned. He's not worried about the competition.

When making his duct work, Myers said what gives him his edge is "staying calm and not worrying about what everyone else is doing."

Kratz says that's Myers' modus operandi through and through.

Myers began his vocational career with an interest in welding, but has since expanded his skills to metal fabrication, sheet work and even owns his own landscaping company, NM Landscaping. He's a doer who doesn't sweat the small stuff.

Behind the scenes, McCann's teachers and advisory board, which includes field professionals from places like General Dynamics and Pixar, work to ensure the students have access and training on all the latest technologies and strategies in their respective fields.

While McCann offers about a dozen vocation and technical programs, other schools in the state and the country are massive in campus size, enrollment and offerings, with some schools boasting upwards of 40 different training programs.

"We're the little school out there, but our presence is felt," Kratz said.

Tom Tinney, who co-advises the SkillsUSA program with Lisa Collins and Cynthia Tinney, said they spend a lot of time talking with other instructors on the sidelines and industry professionals, and now offer things like community service opportunities and a Freshmen Skills Day to help promote the yearlong SkillsUSA program and help students find new opportunities to enrich themselves as young professionals.

"Our kids can come out of here and go right into the studio," said CAD teacher Josh Meczywor.

Next up, the gold winners will head to Louisville, Ky., to compete on the national stage at the end of June, meaning their work will continue even after school's out for summer.

But their not daunted; they're pumped.

"It's all about having confidence," Walden said. "You have to tell yourself you're going to win."

And winning goes beyond just bringing home a medal, Tetlow added.

"You don't know [what it's like] until you actually go and experience it," she said. "I wouldn't have traded it for anything. You learn a lot about yourself too."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6224.


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