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Showing their Skills

Three GAVC students take firsts at state competition

Dylan Brandt works on his welding during class at the Grundy Area Vocational Center Thursday morning in Morris. Brandt placed first at the SkillsUSA competition last weekend in Springfield.
Dylan Brandt works on his welding during class at the Grundy Area Vocational Center Thursday morning in Morris. Brandt placed first at the SkillsUSA competition last weekend in Springfield.

The Grundy Area Vocational Center had three students take first places in their events at the Illinois SkillsUSA state competition last month.

The competition was April 26 and 27 in Springfield. GAVC had 36 students compete.

In welding, GAVC students took first, second and third places. Dylan Brandt, senior at Morris Community High School, took first; Zach Sackman, junior at Minooka Community High School, took second; and Nick Lerma, junior at Morris, took third.

"I had one bad mess up and I thought I was done for, but I kept going, trying to do the best I could," Brandt said,

In the preschool interactive board competition, GAVC took first and second. Sydney Corrigan and Talia Persico, both juniors at Morris, took first place for the board they designed together, "Hanging with the Alphabet," while BreAnna Johnson, senior at Morris, took second place for her board called "Splash of Color."

The state competition was a first for all the top-place winners.

SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives who work together to ensure America has a skilled work force, according to a press release from GAVC. It serves teachers, as well as high school and college students preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations.

The Illinois Association of SkillsUSA is affiliated with National SkillsUSA. Membership provides opportunity to participate in regional activities, state leadership conferences, use of professional development curriculum, and competition in the state Skills USA championships, which are based on technical standards set up by business and industry.


Of the 20 spots to compete for welding, 17 were GAVC students. For seven years in a row GAVC welding students have taken first place, said Jim Cebulski, GAVC welding instructor.

The students first have to take a test to qualify to compete.

"Prior to (the test), they came in four to six hours a night, twice a week, to study for the exam," Cebulski said. "Once we found out who passed, they came in one or two nights a week welding all night practicing. It's a lot of work on their part."

At the state competition, the welders are given blueprints for three projects to do in 3 1/2 hours. They are judged on their work and safety maneuvers.

The awards were announced at a ceremony April 28, but Brandt — along with the first-place winners of the preschool interactive board competition — had left the night before to prepare for Morris Community High School's prom the day of the ceremony.

"I was eating breakfast and I looked down at my phone and had a text that said, 'Dude you just got first' and I thought someone was messing with me, but then my phone was blowing up with texts and calls," Brandt said.

"I was excited and overwhelmed, but it didn't hit me right away because I wasn't at the ceremony. But getting my medal, it was like, 'wow.'

Sackman and Lerma were at the ceremony for the announcements and were surprised at their wins as well.

"I had my head down when they said my name. I didn't believe it at first and people started saying, 'Dude, you got third.' It was one of the good moments of my life," Lerma said.


There were 11 boards in the preschool interactive board competition, including the two from GAVC.

"There were a couple of good boards, but ours were all covered and (the others) were just on a plain white board. Some of their directions and concepts would be confusing for preschoolers," Corrigan said.

The boards were to illustrate two preschool concepts. The first-place winner, "Hanging with the Alphabet," taught letter recognition and letter sounds. The board displayed hanging paper T-shirts with capital letters and the kids are to match the shorts featuring the appropriate lower case letters.

For letter sounds, they match shorts with pictures showing action representing the sound. For example "J" had a picture of kids jumping rope.

The girls were getting their hair done for prom together when their teacher called to tell them they won first place, Persico said. Although they were confident they had a great board, they were pleasantly surprised by the win.

"Well, I cried. I wish they had been there to receive their award and their recognition," said Deb Eungard, GAVC early childhood education instructor. "For us to go one and two was huge. I'm very proud of both of them because, literally, they spent morning, noon and night on these boards."

Brandt will be competing in welding at the national level next month. The preschool interactive boards do not have a national competition.

For more information on the Grundy Area Vocational Center, visit

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