Chris Ingram credits both his union and his Grundy Area Vocational Center education for his first-place win at the American Welding Society’s professional welders competition Nov. 17.
“The biggest reason we all did so good is because we came out of GAVC. We started at an early age. I started at 16,” said Ingram, a 2010 Morris Community High School graduate who is now 20 years old.
Ingram and three fellow GAVC grads — Brian LaRou of Morris, Tony Veronda of Coal City and Steve Ellison of Minooka — were selected by the Local Union 597 Chicago Pipefitters to compete at the contest, held as part of the FABTECH trades show at McCormick Place in Chicago.
There were about 290 entries to the competition, said Ingram. A person can enter as many times as they want to pay for it, but for Ingram and his friends, the union paid for only one entry each. It only took once for Ingram to take first, LaRou fourth, Veronda fifth and Ellison 12th.
For first place, Ingram won $2,500, a new welding hood, gloves and some other welding goods.
“He went to compete (and won) as a second-year apprentice, which is pretty unheard of because he’s pretty new to it,” said GAVC welding instructor Jim Cebulski, who taught the boys when they were students.
Local 597 has sent contestants to the competition before, said Ingram, but this was the first time the union had someone win better than seventh place.
“I really couldn’t believe I won. I just did what the blue print said,” he said.
The welders get five minutes to complete a project. Judges took into account whether the project was fully completed, how well it was done and the amount of time it took.
All four of the competitors practice at the local’s training center in Mokena about four days a week, regardless of a competition.
“It’s like our fun. That’s how we got certified so fast,” said Ingram.
Members of the group did their projects and then left, so when the winners were announced the next day, they were not present. Ingram was working in Indiana.
“We were talking on the car ride up there saying they obviously sent us for a reason. We had a job to do so our goal was to try and win it,” said Ingram.
Their accomplishments were thanks to the union and GAVC, he said, especially because of Cebulski.
“Jim Cebulski is the one who pretty much got me into welding when I first took the tour of GAVC,” said Ingram. “Now I’ve got a job, I’ve got a career, a paid apprenticeship and benefits.”
Hearing of such accomplishments by his students is what keeps Cebulski teaching.
“It sort of keeps me going every year,” he said.
Cebulski believes Ingram is the only first-place winner of this contest who attended GAVC. Prior to him, the best was a fifth. With every contest, he knows his students are capable of winning, but he understands sometimes nerves or other things happen.
“In the back of my head I have no doubt they can do it, but in my own experience I know things happen,” he said. “Yes I was surprised (when Ingram won), but in the back of my mind no (I wasn’t).”
“He’s an amazing kid.”
For more information on GAVC’s welding program, visit gavc-il.org.