Stanislaus County Occupational Olympics pit wits, skills of teen teams

naustin@modbee.comMarch 26, 2014 

— It took 30 seconds for David Beall to jump out of his crisp, navy blue uniform and into full firefighting gear, half the time allotted in the Stanislaus County Occupational Olympics competition.

Beall, 17, who took first place in Firefighter Candidate Training, practices the drill at home with his Explorer turnouts.

“This is what I want to do with my life,” the Davis High Public Safety Academy student said without breaking his precision stance. “I do everything with intent.”

Firefighter drills, from turnout times to hauling hose up bleachers and crawling through framing underneath, were among 22 competitions that drew about 750 students from career courses all over Stanislaus County to the Turlock fairgrounds Wednesday morning.

Job application skills, including an oral board, were part of the firefighting competition overseen by Davis instructor Bob Watt. Watt said he wants to give his students know-how they can use anywhere.

“These are skills they can use no matter where they go in life,” he said. “Every day, I focus on character, ethics, accountability – for what goes wrong, as well as being accountable to do what needs doing.”

Back in the barn area, Hughson High instructor Mike Ellington watched over students skid steering a CAT and backing a compact tractor with trailer through cone-bordered courses. Think of high-performance driving courses, just far slower.

Precision driving, a safety test and making computer-aided repairs come with the ag equipment competition, Ellington said, “It’s not just turning a wrench anymore. These jobs are highly technical.”

Sitting in the robotics section, senior Eric Muñoz said he’s mentoring a team at Central Valley High in Ceres after going to world competitions with last year’s team.

“We were up practicing until 9 p.m. every day,” he said with a nostalgic sigh.

The competition involves building a robot that can perform a task on its own for 20 hair-pulling seconds before a driver takes charge. Wednesday’s drill was to lift, throw and push two sizes of balls.

“There’s a lot to it,” Muñoz said.

Floral arranging also takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work, noted instructor Krista Vannest. Students were tested on identification of plants and tools, construction of corsages and judging arrangements.

The classes train students for careers in floral shops, or profitable side businesses while they train for other careers.

The county contest tests many of the same skills as Future Farmers of America competitions, Vannest said, and helps her students prepare for the FFA regional competition this weekend.

“This county (Occupational Olympics) is the only one I know of like it,” she said. “Our kids who are competing Saturday will have an advantage.”

Patterson High student Alie Tyler, 16, said she practices identification drills on the computer every day in class and generally gets them all right.

“I want to get a degree in ag floral and be a florist,” she said. Helping prepare wedding bouquets and table decorations for a school function, Tyler said, convinced her that this was the field for her.

Coolly evaluating four floral arrangements, Cassidy Schmidt of Beyer High said she checks the shape of the bouquet, the fullness and overall pleasing look of the piece.

“This one’s all over the place,” Schmidt, 17, said with a shake of her head. “It’s just what looks better.”

Other competitions challenged students in career techniques from accounting to welding, hairstyling to auto tech, salad making to video game design. Three team awards were given in all the competitions.

Turlock High captured the Large School Overall Award. Hughson High took home the Small School Overall Award.

Modesto Junior College FFA Field Day will be from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at many sites on the MJC East and West campuses.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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