The Pruden Center for Industry and Technology held its fourth annual heavy equipment rodeo on April 8, at the school’s campus in Suffolk, VA.
For the first time in the event’s history, one student walked away with all three medals for the timed events. During the events, the students demonstrated their skills in operating heavy equipment for family members and representatives from the local construction industry.
All 24 high-school students participating in the rodeo are completing The Pruden Center’s one-year program in utility/heavy construction taught by Ken Southard. The program provides classroom-based training as well as hands-on training in order to assist students who are trying to secure jobs in the construction industry.
The three, timed events for the rodeo are the pin placement, obstacle course and boom race. Students compete by trying to successfully complete each task in the best time. Southard added that the rodeo is held to, “showcase the kids.”
The winner of each event receives a medal and, of course, bragging rights.
The first event, the pin placement, involved operating a John Deere 310E backhoe to move a metal pin from one PCP pipe to another. The obstacle course event required the use of a John Deere 310D backhoe to pick up a load, navigate through cones, dump the load into a truck and back the equipment into a parking spot. The backhoe boom race required students to move forward and backward operating a Ford 575D rubber-tired backhoe with a rear boom.
Chris Rockwell, of Suffolk, won all three events. Rockwell completed the pin placement in 1:09; the obstacle course in 2:24; and the backhoe boom race in 2:21.
With uncharacteristic modesty for a teenager, Rockwell said that his achievement involved “luck more than skill” and he “didn’t expect to get all three.”
He also acknowledged that he “practiced all year.”
Rockwell aspires to have a career operating heavy equipment and is glad to get the practice and make connections through the school’s rodeo. Rockwell refers to Southard, as a “good teacher” and a “good person.”
Because of Southard’s likability and the good manners of the students, industry representatives enjoy judging and observing the event. Barry Hoy, training director of Virginia Beach-based E.V. Williams Inc. and judge for the boom race event, has hired students from Pruden Center in the past.
“Ken installs better ethics in the kids,” said Hoy.
Another judge, Marshall Williams, is a former student of the program. Williams won the obstacle course event during the first rodeo at the center. Everyone who knows him speaks highly of him, and Southard takes pleasure in highlighting the success that Williams has had. While still in high school, Williams bought his first backhoe. He also started his own company, KCW Contracting, and has been his own boss for four years.
A big sponsor of the event is Noel A. Travis, damage prevention training specialist of the Virginia State Corporation Commission Division of Utility and Railroad Safety, and its CARE program. CARE stands for Call Miss Utility before you dig, Allow required time for marking, Respect the marks, Excavate carefully.
Travis is a big supporter of the program and while attending the rodeo distributed safety information, hats and sweatshirts.
“We support any program that offers safe excavating training,” explained Travis.
Nearby municipalities also support the program in various ways, including donating equipment. Dwight Edwards, highway administrative supervisor of the city of Virginia Beach Public Works, sends adults to the center for training on equipment. In the past, Virginia Beach Public Works has donated five pieces of equipment.
Donations of equipment also come from local construction firms like PreCon Construction of Chesapeake, VA.
Charlie Adams, an event judge from Suburban Grading and Utilities Inc. in Norfolk, VA, stated that his company has helped “solicit and deliver equipment.”
Adams also said, “It is really difficult getting operators and good people, so we have offered jobs when the course is completed.”
Even the parents speak highly of the program. Student Jesse Ginn’s father, Larry, said that his son has had three job offers already. Jesse will be graduating high school in June, at which point he is supposed to start a job with a nearby city.
Students involved in the program also learn about site grading and development, excavation, concrete structures, pipe laying, road building and more. In addition to backhoes, students may gain experience operating excavators, bulldozers and loaders. The program also offers students the opportunity to qualify for certification as a forklift operator and as a flagman. A Commercial Driver’s License can be acquired through the program for students who are older than 18 and who hold a valid driver’s license. CEG