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Pruden sends two to nationals

Not every high school student can sit at a welding bench for five hours without a break and weld metals together or manipulate measurements to properly construct a shed —complete with rafters — with comparable skill to any seasoned professional in business.

But that’s exactly what Benjamin Norfleet, 18, and Andrew Hamm, 17, did to win the Skills USA state championships in their respective categories, welding and construction.

The two students, who attend the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology, won first place at regional and state competitions and will compete in the Skills USA national championships June 21-25.

“It’s great to see their effort pay off,” said Tom Shirk, welding instructor at the Pruden Center. “In both these cases, you know they worked hard, and as an instructor it’s always good to see your students succeed.”

Skills USA is an association of more than 300,000 students and instructors nationwide whose mission is to help students become effective workers and leaders. More than 13,000 schools compete in regional, state and the national competitions each year through the organization.

The students receive their project instructions at start of the competition and have a time limit during which they must finish. The projects require an advanced skill set and are evaluated based on a participant’s assembly, workmanship, appearance, safety and use of tools.

During the past 25 years, John Thompson has had eight building trades students take home the state’s gold medal and advance to nationals.

Hamm, who won the district competition last year, is his ninth student to advance to nationals.

During the state competition, Hamm built a large shed, and he was able to find a mistake in the measurements that were found in the blueprints.

“Building has always kind of been my thing,” Hamm said. “I was helping my neighbor remodel his home when I was four, and used to ask for tools for Christmas when I was a kid. I’ve always just loved it.”

Norfleet, Shirk’s second student to attend nationals and fifth to attend state finals, had to complete three different welding processes and an oxy-fuel cutting process for his challenge.

“It was a grueling project,” Shirk said. “He demonstrated a huge amount of determination and work ethic. It takes a lot of practice to do what he did. He is the epitome of work ethic.”

Both students said they felt their instruction was key in their success.

“I was well prepared, so when I went in I wasn’t nervous,” Norfleet said. “When I came into the program two years ago, I didn’t know anything about welding, but I knew how to do everything in there, thanks to Mr. Shirk.”

“I had some students say that if they had been studying with Mr. Thompson they probably could’ve won, too,” Hamm said. “The other kids just weren’t as well prepared as I saw. Mr. Thompson spent a lot of time practicing with me.”

Both students received job offers at the state competition and Hamm will begin working with the Union after graduation. Norfleet received two job offers after the state competition, but has opted to work with his father’s heavy construction company.

“Some young people get involved in the programs here and take off like a wildfire,” Thompson said. “It’s about taking advantage of a good opportunity. That is what these two young men have done.”