Heritage High School students brought home gold and bronze medals from last week’s national SkillsUSA championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

This year’s gold medal by the team of Landon Davis and Caden Branch was the sixth straight year that HHS has medaled in the Robotics: Urban Search and Rescue category at the national level.

Last year the duo earned bronze, and as a school HHS now has two golds, two silvers and two bronze at the national level in the competition, which requires students to build a robot and maneuver it on course to remove simulated bombs.

In the past four years as a spotter and driver on the team, Landon has earned two golds and two bronze medals.

Ethan Webb’s bronze medal in Collision Repair Technology is the first time in recent memory that HHS has made it to the national stage to collect a medal in that category, teacher Randy Byrd said.

Over the past 14 or so years, HHS students had finished among the top 10 in Collision Repair three times, but the previous highest ranking was fifth, Byrd said.

The 55th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference, which calls itself the world’s largest showcase of skilled trades, included 6,500 students in 103 contests.

Smooth run

Landon said the HHS robot had a smooth run at nationals this year. Last year a part broke at nationals, and this spring a cell went out on the battery the day before the state competition.

“We had to make a battery,” Landon explained, soldering together about a dozen AA batteries.

As a freshman, Landon has just taken a basic class when teacher Sam Warwick invited him to join the SkillsUSA team for Robotics: Urban Search and Rescue.

“I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” he said. “I didn’t understand the depth of what you did.”

Recalling countless hours working on the competitions, Landon said, “There’s not enough I can say about how great a teacher he is.”

Caden echoes those comments, calling Warwick his best mentor to date. “He supports you but he lets you make your own mistakes,” Caden said.

During the national competition this year, a team from Rhode Island finished the course faster, earning a 50-point bonus, but when the points for the engineering notebook, presentation to judges and written test were tallied, HHS came out on top.

The presentation portion hadn’t been Heritage’s strength in past years, according to Caden. “Landon and I practiced more this year, and we had it down to a science.”

Landon describes a “friendly rivalry” among the teams, but with its top finishes the past six years, “There’s a certain respect for our school at the national robotics level.”

In this year’s design, he said, “We really tried to focus on making the robot modular.” So, for example, if someone wanted to manufacture the robot, it was designed so that different options could be offered.

He estimates 70% of this year’s robot was created using CAD (computer aided design) software and 3D printing. “It’s a great way to work with the engineering design process,” Landon explained, by testing and improving designs.

This fall Landon, who was valedictorian at HHS, is headed to Tennessee Technological University to study civil engineering.

While he considered other engineering fields, Landon said, “I like civil engineering because it allows a lot of opportunities for hands-on work.”

Although SkillsUSA includes college-level competition, Tennessee Tech doesn’t have a team yet.

Having worked with Caden for the past two years, Landon is confident that he’s leaving HHS in good hands with the rising junior.

Caden will move from spotter while the robot runs the course to driver and will mentor another student who will come on as the spotter.

Over the past two years, Caden said, being on the team has honed teamwork and problem-solving skills and convinced him that he is on the path toward his future career.

“I know I want to be a mechanical engineer,” he said. “I know that’s my passion.”

Devoted to detail

Byrd names Ethan among the top five students he has taught at Heritage over the years, citing the rising senior’s attention to detail and determination to study and listen.

The third-place award at nationals was a surprise to Ethan, Byrd said. “He’s really picky,” the teacher explained. “He didn’t think he did well.”

But when Ethan finished he did tell Byrd, “I aced the plastic.”

During the competition he had to weld steel, aluminum and plastic. Although Ethan previously had taken a welding class, this past year was his first in collision repair, Byrd said. The school also just added a plastic welder in the fall, using a grant to purchase the equipment, since today insurers are emphasizing repair of plastic parts such as bumpers instead of replacing them.

For his competition Ethan had to provide a resume, take a written test from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and create a written estimate, as well as perform repairs.

Ethan already works at a body shop in Seymour, Byrd said. “He’s well rounded. He can do anything he wants to.”

In the collision repair class at HHS, students learn not only body work but also upholstery, electrical and mechanical repairs. Byrd tells students there’s always going to be demand for that type of work. “Even if you don’t go into it for a living, it’s good side money,” he said.

The HHS team of Drew Rossen and Marissa Dixon finished 10th in Digital Cinema Production, the same place Katie Lowe earned in Technical Related Math.

Heritage’s other national competitors were: Cybersecurity, Trey Hackney and Brittany Case; Technical Computer Applications, Gatlin Murr; Mobile Robotics Technology, Will Stallions and Logan Brookshire; and Carpentry, Giovanni Salas.

William Blount High School had students competing in two categories: 3D Visualization and Animation with John McClemore and Carolyn Stansberry, and Photograph with Sarah Poplin.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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