Local team to represent state in national welding competition

It may not quite be cockiness, but three friends in the local area believe they have what it takes to weld their way to a national championship title.

At just 18 years old each, Devin Hollman of Brocton, Dillon Meehan of Gowanda and Tyler Strano of Silver Creek will represent New York state at the SkillsUSA National Welding and Metal Fabrication Championship on June 25-26 in Kansas City, Mo.

All three are high school seniors enrolled in the welding program at the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES LoGuidice Center in Fredonia and they already have a state-level victory under their belts. They earned that win as a team in April, beating out 17 other teams in the state’s first-ever competition of its kind.

“We choked up when we found out we won. We thought we were third-place, maybe second,” Tyler said. “I had to throw on the (uniform) jacket of this tiny girl next to me because I didn’t have a jacket to even go up there (to accept the awards). We had no clue we could’ve won until it actually happened.”

The team’s teacher and adviser, Kevin Valentine, said he sees each member going far, not just in the competition, but in their careers, as well.

He is also determined to demonstrate western New York, once known for its huge steel plants and many trades involving welding, is a place where talented welders can still come from.

“For a small town like this to be able to kick out and show that we’re a little shining star with quality education still when it comes to welding, it’s huge,” he said. “I expect for us to win; we’re not going to just show up and say, ‘Thanks for inviting us.’ I want them to have to beat us. We’re going to put our heart in this to show we can do it anywhere in this country.”

Longtime friends Tyler and Devin enrolled in the welding and metal fabrication program at BOCES together after tinkering around with small projects in Devin’s garage. Dillon had no prior experience in welding before taking the classes, but had always been interested in trying it out.

“When I was 13, I got my first welder because all I ever wanted to do was be able to weld,” Devin said. “It’s just something I never get bored of; it was a passion that keeps you occupied and out of trouble. When me and Tyler enrolled in the program, we realized it was a completely different ball game from our little redneck setup we had going on in my house.”

Then came the opportunity to sign up for the SkillsUSA state-level welding competition as an extra-curricular activity for the class. Devin said he couldn’t think of anybody else to join him on his team, with Tyler, Dillon and himself as the students most interested in welding as a career.

Dillon also got involved with SkillsUSA last year to get a feel for the organization.

“We wanted a team that worked and was capable of getting stuff done together and being patient with each other,” Tyler added.

At the state competition, the trio had to fabricate a cooker from a blueprint in under eight hours by making parts for it with limited resources and by cutting and welding it. As a twist, they were then asked why their product should be marketed and sold and what they would do to market it.

“That last part stunned us, but Tyler pulled us together there,” Devin said. “He’s the better speaker of the group. He’ll be the next Billy Mays (the late television advertisement pitchman).”

The trio believes they have what it takes to win it all at the national competition because they each have their own fortes that mesh together to form a top-notch team.

“We can back each other up in something that one person isn’t great at but another one is,” Dillon said. “Each one of us brings something we’re good at to the table, in regards to welding.”

Tyler agreed, adding they double-check each other’s work as a project progresses.

With a potential competition pool of 49 other teams (one from each state), Devin, Tyler and Dillon will have to build a trailer from their own pre-made blueprints, using limited materials and even less time than at the state level: six-and-a-half hours.

But, with the confidence and determination visible on all three faces, that does not seem to intimidate them.

“If they (our competition) were a steak, then we’re going to make them into minced meat,” Devin said.

SkillsUSA is a nationwide “partnership of students, teachers and industry experts working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce” and its goal is “to empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible citizens,” according to the organization’s website.

The SkillsUSA championships in Kansas City will encompass nearly 100 separate events, including welding. More than 15,000 people, including students, teachers and business partners, are expected to participate in the 50th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, a “showcase of career and technical education students.” That conference, held June 22-27, includes the championships.

Erie 2 BOCES will also be represented at the conference by Zachary Kontos of Springville and Nicholas McIntyre of Southwestern Central School. Kontos, a senior in the Construction Technology class at the Ormsby Center in East Aurora, placed first in the state competition for cabinet making, while McIntyre, a student in the Motorsports Fabrication/Precision Machining program at the Hewes Center in Ashville, earned the state’s top spot in the precision machining competition.

To learn more about SkillsUSA, visit www.skillsusa.org.

Comments on this article may be sent to gfox@observertoday.com