BG welding students headed to national competition


BATTLE GROUND – Becoming state champions wasn’t what anyone expected of the Battle Ground welding students, especially the students themselves.

When Tod Garred, welding instructor at Battle Ground High School, asked his class if anyone would like to enter a welding competition, he expected the same lack of interest he’d had in previous years. But “these kids were willing to give it a shot,” said Garred.

Battle Ground High School students Wyatt MacAdam, a senior, and juniors Jack Fidura and Cody Halme tackled the challenge, and have earned their spot at the upcoming national championship.

The first step was a regional competition, where the three students entered the fray without knowing what to expect, and qualified to go on to the state level. Now they knew the challenges they would face, and they had a taste of success. They spent many hours after school and on weekends practicing each type of weld, working with different metals, and practicing various types of joints. Their preparation paid off.

“We blew through it,” said MacAdam, while many teams didn’t even complete their project.

The Battle Ground team came home with a state championship for the miniature food smoker they built, and a chance to compete at the National Skills USA competition in Louisville, KY, on June 20-27, 2015.

At regional and state competitions, students are given a blueprint and four hours to complete their project. For the national contest the challenge is taken up a notch. Before they even start welding, the team must pass a challenging 100 question test covering terminology and welding concepts. MacAdam pulled a crumpled and well-worn chart of welding symbols from his pocket; he carries it with him to study in spare moments.

Welding teams each design their project ahead of time using a pre-determined parts list, and create a detailed blueprint using computerized design, or CAD, software. This was one of the most challenging tasks; the students haven’t had training in drafting or CAD, so they have had to figure that out for themselves.

“It benefits us to make it the best we can, because we have to work from it,” said Fidura.

The blueprint is submitted prior to the contest, and the competition project must conform to it exactly. This means it’s essential to work out the kinks ahead of time. Using metal supplies donated by C.H. Murphy Clark-Ullman Inc., they are building a prototype in the school shop, making sure that each detail on the blueprint can be built as specified.

Teams have six hours to build their project in competition, which will be judged on areas such as the type of weld chosen, the appearance of the weld and the fabrication.

Teamwork is a big part of the students’ success. The welders must know each other’s strengths when they take on a new challenge. But the goal, said MacAdam, is for them all to excel at everything.

The Skills USA program aims to develop leadership along with technical skills, and competitors are also scored on their professional resume and an oral presentation.

Entering competition has challenged the three students to learn advanced skills, and also given them opportunities for that learning. Experienced welders can offer tips and techniques to make the job easier.

“We’re always learning new things,” said Halme.

All three students are planning a career in welding, and they feel certain their success in competition will help them stand out when they are looking for a job. They also hope their experience will build school district and community support for their school’s welding program, and encourage future students to pursue competition and advanced welding skills.

The team has another challenge to meet to get to nationals. The school does not provide funding for the competition, so the team is hustling to raise the almost $8,000 cost for entry fees and travel. They have created a page on the popular fundraising site, called “BGHS Welding SkilsUSA Nationals”, where they have raised almost $4,000. They raised another $1000 selling metal artwork at a recent plant sale.

They have only a few weeks to raise the balance of the funds, so they are seeking additional donations while putting in long hours to finalize their project design and perfect their welding skills. Donations can be made through the website, or by contacting coach Tod Garred at Battle Ground High School, (360) 885-6500.

Garred has spent long days with the team in the welding shop, after school and on weekends, and he’ll be travelling to Kentucky as their coach for the national competition. Seeing his students work so hard and succeed is “the frosting on the cake” for him as a teacher, he said.