By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
Eight 14-year-old boys from Collins Middle School won Grand Champion showmanship, Reserve champion in the junior ag mechanics division, and first in class (non-stock trailers) this month at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, and third at the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo.
The San Antonio showmanship victory meant a lot since their competition was more than 750 entries from other schools around the state.
Their project is a hydraulic-lifted wheelchair-accessible deer stand that will be donated to the Paralyzed Veterans of America chapter in Houston.
Because it had never been done before, the project required more than 400 hours of labor, and help from teachers and students from across Collins Middle School. Teachers in the English, science, math and computer departments helped with the designs and write-ups, while kids from seventh grade helped with some of the heavy lifting, literally.
“The whole school helped us,” said Caleb Watkins. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
The biggest challenge was getting that frame straight, otherwise, it wouldn’t have worked, the boys explained. It took more than one try.
“And because these are 14-year-olds, we probably built this project three times,” Aycock said. Eighth graders don’t always abide by the ‘measure twice, cut once’ rule of construction. It’s part of the learning process, their teacher said.
The hardest part may have been getting the booth up, because the shop class doesn’t have a mechanical lift.
“It took us and a lot of seventh graders,” said Dylan White.
The team was divided on what was the best part of the work. They debated their answer — getting it done, showing it off, welding, wrapping, painting — but it was Jack Blanton who suggested the best part was when the veterans came to see the finished project.
“It was touching more than fun,” Hudson Anderson added.
“It was just very touching because when they cried it made us want to cry,” said Richard Wiese.
Several of the boys said that the lessons they’ve learned in the shop class would play at least a part in their future careers.
“I’d say the whole project was something I’ll never forget personally,” said Landon Holcomb. “It’s really brought us closer together, almost like family, like brothers.”
Through the process, they’ve eaten, worked, fought, and prayed together, the boys said.
The students who work on the project are hand-chosen, not necessarily just the best welders or mechanics, but as the best students, ones who can work together for the team and bring skills and ideas to the table, Aycock explained. From all the seventh-graders who take shop class, 30 are chosen to go onto the advanced shop class in eighth grade, and seven to 12 of those advanced students are chosen to work on the annual project.
What makes it unusual is not how well the students have done, although the Collins Middle School students consistently do well at competitions around the state and have repeatedly beaten older students’ projects at the local Youth Expo, but that there is a shop class at this level at all. The state doesn’t fund shop classes for eighth graders. It was a decision by Corsicana Superintendent Diane Frost and the school board to fund both the teacher and the equipment and materials needed, explained Collins Principal Darla Nolen.
Historically, the highest drop-out rate is in ninth grade, Aycock said. It’s particularly important for those students who aren’t star athletes or musicians.
“This is another way to hang onto a child,” he said.
Local sponsors for this project have been the Corsicana Education Foundation, Watkins Construction, Winters Oil, The Refuge owned by Glenn Sodd, and Lee Pope of CargoCraft. All the sponsors were aware beforehand that the project would be given away, Aycock said.
The boys have already won about $10,000 in tools and equipment, as well as six $2,000 college scholarships. They still have three shows to go, including the enormous Houston Livestock show, the Navarro County Youth Expo, and next fall’s State Fair of Texas.
Some of the equipment is meant to be used in the classrooms, but some of the tools and welding helmets will be given to the students for their own use at the end of the school year, Aycock said.
“This year there will be good take-homes,” he said.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at email@example.com. Want to “Soundoff” to this article? Email: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com