Guadalupe Cortez, the SkillsUSA national post-secondary secretary, hands Conneaut senior Chad Jones, 18, his gold award that he and his team won at the SkillsUSA District Competition in New Castle during a recognition event at the Crawford County Career and Technical Center.

More than 100 students gathered at the Crawford County Career and Technical Center on Thursday to celebrate SkillsUSA Week, recognizing the work of the nonprofit association and its partnership between, students, instructors and industry working together to build a pipeline to trades and skilled work.

Local tool manufacturer Channellock Inc. served as the sponsor for the national celebration of SkillsUSA, and representatives from the association were given tours of the various facilities housing automotive training, carpentry, welding, precision machining and electrical training programs.

Up to 4,000 schools participate in SkillsUSA Week, but only three were chosen to host a special Service Day to honor veterans and Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that builds and donates specially adapted custom homes to veterans, many of whom have been severely injured.

The day was capped off by an assembly where students heard from National SkillsUSA officers Guadalupe Cortez and Amari Brown, college/postsecondary secretary and high school secretary, respectively. They were also commended by Channellock’s Ryan DeArment, vice president of sales and marketing. Finally, they listened to a speech from U.S. Marine Cpl. Brandon Rumbaugh about the lessons he learned fighting in the Middle East, persevering after losing both his legs in an explosion, and being granted a house from Homes for Our Troops.

“What you need to focus on before you focus on making money is doing the right thing and working as hard as you possibly can,” Rumbaugh said. “Everything else will fall into place. This is the most critical time in your life. As it gets harder, you can get smarter, stronger, able to handle more, but all of that starts right now.”

Following the speech, SkillsUSA presented medals to the district competition winners. Receiving gold medals were John Gaub for computer numerical control milling; Olivia Minor for cosmetology; Logan Bill, Chad Jones, Brody Price and Camden Mattocks in a team carpentry project; and Daphne Hulings and Alexis Loper for esthetics. Gold medals present the winners with the option of moving on to the state competition in Hershey.

“It’s a great opportunity to go to states, get our names out there and be recognized,” said Chad Jones, a senior at Conneaut Area Senior High. “We built a mini-shed, and it had electrical wiring in it, a couple light switches and a roof off the back. Our teacher helped us through. We did all the adjustments before we went down.”

Silver medalists were Hunter Groger in electrical and Levi Freer, Sarah Fronce and Isaac Hall in welding fabrication. Tatiana Furry received a bronze medal in customer service.

“I think it’s nice,” said Camden Mattocks, a senior at Maplewood High School and president of the Crawford County SkillsUSA chapter. “We worked for several weeks for this, so it was nice to go down and compete and do well and achieve our goal.”

Kevin Sprong, director of the Crawford County Career and Technical Center, said his initial goal three years ago was to put the school “on the map for Pennsylvania.” However, when the opportunity arose to work with long-time partner Channellock, which donates tools to the school, on this country-wide celebration, Sprong and Principal Michael Costa decided to go for it.

“I want this school to support the county,” Sprong said. “We’re just another pathway. Some go into the workforce, some go right into college, some go right into the military. There are so many benefits. We’re holding a national event with a national sponsor, Channellock, for our kids, and our partners and for our community.”

To raise the school’s profile, Costa and Sprong invited leaders from the state Department of Education and Department of Labor as well as local legislators to check out the programs on offer. Costa also cited the academic rigor involved in keeping their programs updated from chemistry in auto collision painting to calculus for electronics. Both credited the relationships built with area businesses and industries as key to the center’s success.

“There’s no way we could keep that momentum going for the last three years without those partnerships,” Sprong said. That’s what we’re trying to do — build that support that helps us get where we want to go. It’s all teamwork, and they’ve been extraordinary.”

Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

React to this story: