Three Inspire Academy students competing in SkillsUSA

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, December 12, 2023

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Three Chambers County School District students competed in competitions for the Inspire Academy Automotive Program for their SkillsUSA Contest on Dec. 8. Drew Manley won first place; Austin Colley finished in second place and DJ Morris in third place. 

Students from Inspire Academy, Chambers County School District’s career tech school, will move on to compete at the District SkillsUSA Contest on Feb. 16 at Lurlene B. Wallace Community College McArthur Campus.

SkillsUSA is a national career and technical student organization which serves high school, middle school and college students participating in trade and technical programs. 

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James Winkles, the automotive instructor at Inspire Academy, said one of the challenges involved diagnosing and repairing a vehicle in just 15 minutes. Chambers County Commissioner Sam Bradford said in addition to helping with the hands-on stations, he administered a written examination.

Members from the school system, local industry and the Alabama State Department volunteer as judges for the competition. Community leaders like Bradford, Tammy Hughley from Chambers County School System and James Winkles of Inspire Academy Automotive Instructor were among the judges.

Winkles said the competition gives students the opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned before an audience and hone their skills in a competitive environment. He said students who participate often win tools and around $20,000 to $50,000 in scholarship money. 

“This gives them industry perspective in the way of judging them and evaluating their progress and gives them some guidance on how to improve,” Winkles said.

The students also make networking connections and have often received job opportunities.  

Brandon Parmer, Diverse Power Right of Way Department; Tony Kennedy, Langley GMC; Ken Sealy, Alabama State Department of Education; Brett Karr, LaGrange Toyota; and Kevin Reynolds, Mike Patton Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep; also volunteered their time to the competition.

According to the automotive instructor, all three students are currently working with local automotive employers. One is working at Langley GMC, while the other two are working at LaGrange Toyota.

Winkles has been sponsoring students for the SkillsUSA for years. He has gone with students to the national competition for decades.

“I’ve carried students to nationals 18 or 20 times,” Winkles said. 

Bradford, who worked with Winkles in Troup County School System, said Winkles has strengthened the SkillsUSA program in Chambers County. During his time at Inspire Academy, two of Winkles’s students have gone to national competitions in SkillsUSA. 

In 2019, two students competed in national competitions, one in automotive and one in maintenance light repair. In 2022, another student won second place in maintenance light repair at a national competition.

Bradford commended the students for the dedication and extracurricular practice they did to participate in the competition. 

During the competition, the students competed in Disc and Drum Brake Service, Tire Service and Balancing, Machining Rotors, Diagnosing Computer Systems, Engine Measuring, Electrical/Electronic Circuit Diagnostics, Interview and Electronic Data Retrieval.

“They spend a lot of hours practicing,” Bradford said. 

Winkles said he stays after school two nights a week to help the students train for two hours. Bradford said credit should be given to the behind-the-scenes work that Winkles does to get students ready for competition every year as well.

Winkles said another reason that the local contest is important is that it helps students shake off their competition nerves.

“Normally a student competing for the first time, they’re real nervous,” Winkles said. “So this way, they’ve already been through one time. The next time they do it, they won’t be as nervous.”