BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – For the second straight year, the Fort Madison building trades program has brought home a title.
Two teams from Fort Madison, a carpentry team and an electrical team, participated in the competition put on by the Association of the Building Contractors of Iowa.
Students Elijah Barnes, Elton Kruse, Bradley Sporkman, and Brandon Reichelt captured the state title in the carpentry competition, while AJ Nolting and Jordyn Gerdes won second place in the electrical competition.
It was the third year that Fort Madison has entered the contest with shining results. The first year, 2015, the Bloodhounds took 2nd place in the carpentry division and last year they won the competition, repeating as champions this year.
Building Trades instructor Clint Kobelt said this year was especially exciting for him and the students as the Hounds won in the face of some stiff adversity.
Kobelt, who is relegated to just observing during the 4.5 hour competition, said this year was taxing compared to last year.
“In all honesty, the day before the competition this was a five-man team. Thursday when we left for Des Moines Ryan Reese got sick,” Kobelt said.
“They had been practicing and working as a team and sort of had the division of labor figured out. Everyone had their strength and to lose 20% of your team, that’s like losing your point guard. They had to adjust to pick up the slack. The ability of those four young men to adjust on the fly and pick up that slack and put out the product they did was amazing.”
The Bloodhounds went up against 12 other schools that had signed up for the competition. Kobelt said he thinks the level of competition scares off a lot of schools from competing because they don’t have the programming that the other schools have.
“Fort Madison has made a conscious decision to move toward industry standard training and away from the traditional woodshop classes where you build a bird house. That takes a significant commitment in staffing and courses. That’s no small feat.”
The contest involved getting a set of blue prints and a stack of materials and the teams then have a four-and-a half-hour time limit to build the project, which this year was an oversized dog house. Kobelt said he can offer no help to the students.
He said the win is even more impressive when you consider Fort Madison is on a tri-semester schedule and not the traditional semester class rotation.
“Well, Fort Madison is kind of at a disadvantage that we’re on trimesters. Most schools are on semester schedules and they’ve been together since August,” Kobelt said “Now these kids have only been together functioning as a group for two weeks, but they have had other trades classes together so they know each other pretty well.”
Several of the team members, including Kruse, a junior, said the competition is using skills taught, but also focusing on working as a team.
“I just try not to think about where other teams are,” Kruse said. “It was really detailed, not really that hard, you just had to step back and pay attention to what you’re doing.”
Kruse said he joined the competition team for the first time, but has taken more of the building trades classes throughout high school.
“I’m interested in this after high school and I knew it was a good program. I really like the teacher,” Kruse said.
Barnes, a senior who was on the team that won the state competition last year, said knowing the expectations was an advantage this year. He said the success of the team is reflective of the program and the school’s commitment to the program. The fact that they could win when one of the team members wasn’t able to compete speaks volumes to their preparation.
“I think this says, first, that we have a really good teacher, but also that the school’s put us in a good situation to be able to go up there, compete, and win,” Barnes said.
Barnes has taken many courses in the building trades curriculum and said he thinks it will eventually transition into a career for him. However, he is considering going to junior college to play football and some of the juco programs that are looking at him have solid construction programs.
He said finding out the team would be one short didn’t distract them from their goal of repeating as champions.
“We just had to redistribute where the work had to go,” Barnes said. “But we went in with the mindset that we were going to win. Being there last year I knew what to expect and what was going to happen. So I was thinking of how we could be the most efficient with the work we had to do and in the time we had to get it done.”
The electrical team also had four-and-a-half hours to complete their task of wiring four switches, two three-ways, a four-way, and an outlet into a 60 amp panel.
Junior Jordyn Gerdes said the team missed winning the title when a switch tripped a breaker due to a loose connection.
“It was kind of confusing but they pay real close attention to details,” he said. “Everything had to be neat and exact. You have to keep wires neat and not kinked. Make sure connections are tight. One of ours wasn’t tight and it tripped a breaker and that’s where we lost some points,” Gerdes said.
He said he likes the trades program and may look at a career in the field.
“I think it’s pretty good they allow us to do this,” he said. “They let kids get real life experience instead of just reading everything out of a book.”
Kobelt said despite the short two-week period of training due to the trimester schedule, the students have been engaged in trade classes for some time and recently took over building the Habitat for Humanity home at 31st and K in Fort Madison.
He said the students didn’t put the foundation in on that project, but everything else was turned over to the students. They are also working together on a hydroponic addition to the ag building that will be turned into a hydroponic garden project. Plants grow in water as opposed to soil in a hydroponic setting.
Kobelt said the students that spend time in the dual credit trades program can come out of high school with one full year of college credit and are just one year away from an associates degree in the program at a junior college.
“The job market is wide open for these students and placement is a non-issue. We’re in continuous conversation with local employers and they are wanting to recruit these students right out of high school. It’s an amazing thing to have employers coming to you instead of the reverse,” he said. “There are already contractors jockeying for position and they want to come in and give their spiel to seniors in the spring. They want to get in front of these guys and that’s powerful.”