A total of 4,800 competitors participated in the SkillsUSA competition in Kansas City.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - With 285,000 people in SkillsUSA chapters throughout the country, the 4,800 who made it to the National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City this summer as the result of winning local, state, and regional competitions “were in the top 2 percent of all SkillsUSA students in the United States.”

That was a point stressed by Jeff Campbell, vice president of sales for Rubbermaid/IRWIN, who spoke during the awards ceremony that closed a weeklong series of seminars and competitions. To top it off, Campbell told those top 2 percent that they were “the most impressive group ever to attend a national conference.”

In that mix of 4,800 competitors, there were 52 taking part in the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration contest. While competitions in 86 other trades were taking place at the same time throughout the massive Bartle Hall and Kansas City Convention Center, the HVACRers spent eight hours doing brazing, refrigerant component servicing, air measurement and troubleshooting, refrigerant recovery, and electrical troubleshooting (as well as a written exam taken earlier). They worked on such equipment as ice machines, refrigerated display cases, small package HVAC units, furnaces, and split-system air conditioning units.

They were under the watchful eye of dozens of judges from industry manufacturers, trade associations, and trade publications. At the end of the day, head judges from each aspect of HVACR being contested debriefed those who took part as to what they were looking for from the participants.

They praised the 52 “as being winners for making it to the finals” and for their ability to work under the pressure of judges and the constant passage of spectators in the event open to the public.

In each of the judging areas, points were accumulated for following safety procedures, identifying components, diagnosing problems, and the proper use of tools. In the end, three students in the secondary (high school) level and three in the post-secondary level earned HVACR medals.

Secondary winners were Nicholas Wray of Limestone Career Technology Center in Athens, Ala., gold; Jeremy Durham of Pathfinder Vo Tech, Palmer, Mass., silver; and James Amason of Pascagoula (Miss.) High School Vo-Tech Center, bronze.

Post-secondary winners were Aaron Nelson of St. Cloud (Minn.) College, gold; Matthew Griffiths of San Bernardino (Calif.) Valley College, silver; and David Davis of Lamar Institute of Technology, Beaumont, Texas, bronze.

Proper recovery and recycling was a component of testing at SkillsUSA.


Campbell cited what he called “the power of competition” by noting it brings out “work ethics, discipline, the ability to handle adversity, and respect for authority.”

SkillsUSA Executive Director Timothy Lawrence also saw the value of the competition. “Students made it here because of skill, attitude, and dedication to excellence. They are among the best of the best at this national showcase of talent.”

He also had praise for the advisors and educators. “They are not only an inspiration to students, but also an inspiration to all of us. They are the reason students choose SkillsUSA. They are the lifeblood of the organization and they motivate and inspire each and every day.”

An HVACR contestant tries some brazing under the watchful eye of a judge.

In all, more than 14,000 students, teachers, education leaders, and representatives from manufacturers, corporations, trade associations, and labor unions attended the Leadership and Skills Conference that ran for five days. Activities included daylong workshops and seminars, as well as fun times at a local waterpark and shopping centers, and tours of the Kansas Speedway NASCAR track and Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals.

Also, the event included more than 150 exhibitors both inside the convention center and on blocked off city streets. Representatives from vocational programs and manufacturers had exhibit booths. And despite the on and off again rains throughout the week, the 29 outside exhibitors drew plenty of interest with informal competitions, including those involving tools (how fast can you safely hammer in a set of nails, how long can you hold a circular saw with an arm fully extended, etc.). BMX riding demonstration and the presence of NASCAR vehicles also drew crowds to the exhibit booths.

A number of attendees also spent a rainy Friday doing community service. Volunteers worked with Habitat for Humanity Kansas City, helping to build and rehabilitate existing homes including painting, window and door installation, and dry wall. They also made repairs to a local business, renovated a children’s playground, and did landscaping in area parks.

Before a full house at Kemper Arena, Jeff Campbell of Rubbermaid/IRWIN talked about the power of competition during closing ceremonies at SkillsUSA in Kansas City, Mo.

Sidebar: Get the Gold

For Aaron Nelson it was a “hot careers night” at a local college. For Nicholas Wray it was a family affair. Nelson and Wray were the HVACR gold medal winners at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference this past June in Kansas City. Nelson, 20, finished at the top in the post-secondary division. Wray, 18, finished first among those at the secondary (high school) level.

In interviews withThe NEWSshortly after the conference, both talked about how and why they got into the HVACR industry.

In the spring of his senior year in high school, Nelson, of St. Joseph, Minn., said he went to what was promoted as a “hot careers night” at St. Cloud (Minn.) Technical College. He had been taking some electronics classes in high school and, in fact, had been working at a Radio Shack. One of those hot careers was HVACR, which Nelson saw as providing an opportunity for more service and troubleshooting work - as well as using his already acquired electronics skills.

Wearing medals are winners of the HVACR competition at the most recent SkillsUSA championship. In front row are secondary (high school) winners, from left, Jeremy Durham, silver; Nicholas Wray, gold; and James Amason, bronze. In back from left are post-secondary winners Matthew Griffiths, silver; Aaron Nelson, gold; and David Davis, bronze. Also pictured, at far left, is Bob Mikell of Carrier Corp, and, at far right, Lynn Bosse of Lennox Industries, who co-chaired the HVACR Technical Committee for SkillsUSA.

His aptitude proved quick, for soon after starting to take HVACR classes at St. Cloud College, he also began working with an area residential heating and air conditioning contractor. He recently completed the two-year program at St. Cloud and went to work full-time for Precise Refrigeration of St. Joseph, a commercial and residential HVACR company.

“I like having my own van and going somewhere different every day. You never see the same job twice,” he said.

While at St. Cloud, he plugged into a SkillsUSA chapter and finished fourth in the state competition during his first year, before taking home the gold this year. Even though Wray, of Ardmore, Tenn., is only 18, he has been in the industry virtually from birth. His dad, Randy, owns Randy Wray’s Heating and Cooling, a business founded in 1988. Nicholas can remember tagging along with his dad from a very early age and by 13 was helping his dad. The company does residential and commercial heating and cooling as well as some refrigeration.

Just prior to coming to the SkillsUSA event, Nicholas graduated from Limestone Career Technology Center in nearby Athens, Ala., the same school his dad graduated from in 1982. In fact, both of them had the same instructor, Mike Clem.

The skyline of Kansas City, Mo., provides the background for some of the outdoor exhibitors at SkillsUSA’s National Leadership and Skills Conference.

Nicholas Wray said he has been entering SkillsUSA competitions for three years. Last year, he said he finished seventh in the national event in Kansas City before taking top honors this year.

Wray said he plans to continue to work during the day in his dad’s business that basically just consists of the two of them, plus some additional seasonal workers hired from time to time. He also plans on continuing his studies at night at Calhoun College in Decatur, Ala.

He said, “I’ve had some good job offers” based on his work in his dad’s business and his achievements at the local, state, and national levels of SkillsUSA. But he already has an ultimate goal in mind: He wants to take over the family business when his dad retires.

And he already has a potential employee: His 12-year-old brother Matthew “is already starting to help out a bit.”

Publication date:07/30/2007