HAWLEY — History has a tendency of repeating itself for Wallenpaupack automotive students, who work hard. Within the last 15 years, young automotive technicians from Wallenpaupack Area High School have placed first six times, and in the top three 11 of the 15 years they competed in the Pennsylvania Automotive Association competition in Hershey.
And within the past three years, each team has placed first at the state competition.
Automotive teacher Dr. Mark Watson says a key to the students' success each year is a commitment to hard work.
That, he stresses to his students, and both seniors Ben Surplice and Theo Zumpone agree with his philosophy, and as a result of their own efforts, the students will be traveling to New York City to compete in the National Automotive Technology Competition at the Javits Center, March 28 after placing first in the PA Auto Competition in February.
Out of 101 students across the state of Pennsylvania, both Surplice and Zumpone received the highest scores on a test that determines who competed in the PA Auto Competition.
For the competition, they had to determine why a 2016 GM Terrian wouldn't start, do a pre-delivery inspection and address the problems they discovered in a set time.
The second half of the competition consisted of completing the following five workstations in a matter of 15 minutes each: brakes, steering and suspension, precision measurements, waveforms and electrical.
The most challenging part was the waveforms.
To address that station, Surplice said communication was essential, as they had to figure out the answer together.
Both students said they anticipated the competition would be intense, due to Watson's reminders that their competitors are from trade schools.
Zumpone questioned however, how is the Wallenpaupack program so successful, considering Watson only works with the class of 18 students, 84 minutes each period.
The continued success was something everyone at the competition was aware of, and they were “definitely the ones to beat.”
Due to Watson's knowledge, Zumpone said the duo did not underestimate the challenge that awarded them with approximately $3,000 in prizes that include, a $2,000 scholarship to a school of their choice and $1,000 in tools.
If the students go on to win the national competition, like last year's Wallenpaupack team, Zumpone and Surplice will each receive over $250,000 in prizes that include a full scholarship and tools that will help them with their careers.
Watson said those prizes will give them an advantage because they are essential items needed in the field. Plus, the doors to potential jobs will be opened.
The significance of the full scholarships, Zumpone said is “life changing” and is a “gigantic opportunity” that “totally changes the game.”
Zumpone said he likes working on cars because it allows him the chance to get his hands dirty and be creative.
Surplice also said he likes the field because he enjoys fixing the faults of the vehicles.
Having to complete the stations in 15 minutes, Zumpone said made the students have to trust each other’s abilities, and from their continued training, starting some days before classes started and staying hours after, they realized each other's strengths.
At the national competition, the students will have to complete 10 workstations and a job interview in three hours and then, on another day, work on a Kia Sorrento.
Working on the car, Zumpone said is "more in-depth" because the issues within the cars will be what technicians can expect to find at a dealership. Watson said all of the components of the competition are "real world.”
One of the biggest tests to their upcoming competition, Watson said is finding a Kia Sorrento and then training on it, because it is the first time they have had to work on one. Aside from the multiple computers in the vehicle, since Watson does not teach air conditioning systems at the school, that too may be tough, since they will have to do a diagnosis.
Despite the challenges, Watson still has confidence because it is all part of the “fun.”
The students were able to train for the state competition because Schwarz Inc. in Honesdale lent them a car and staff from the dealership provided the students with pointers on using a few tools and working with the computers in the vehicle.
Both students are very excited to go to New York City, but Surplice especially, who has never been there, said what a great reason to go to the City of Lights for his first time.
More than anything though, Zumpone and Surplice, expressed great appreciation for Watson’s continued support, spending hours working with them and doing all that he feels is necessary to prepare for the competitions that is a “chance to change your lives,” as he has said. The time he has committed and continued enthusiasm, Zumpone called “insane” and their appreciation cannot be measured.