Four Seymour FFA members set for state welding contest

Having breakfast together early the morning of a welding contest could have been the secret to their success.

Seymour High School FFA members Brayden Rorick, Dylan Peters, Mitchell Mellencamp and Ethan Alberring were among the District XI competitors in Bedford.

Rorick and Alberring placed second overall individually in their divisions, while teamwise, Rorick and Peters won the advanced division and Mellencamp and Alberring won the beginners division.

The latter two team titles advance them to the Indiana FFA state welding contest, which is Saturday at J. Everett Light Career Center in Indianapolis.

Perhaps they should follow the same routine for that contest.

“You can’t compete on an empty stomach, can’t weld on an empty stomach,” Peters said, smiling.

The four boys are part of the welding program at SHS, which is taught by Ben Fox at the Seymour Ag-Science and Research Farm in the Freeman Field Industrial Park.

Fox said this is the third year for the welding program at the school, and when he found out about the FFA contest, he shared information with the advisers, who asked members if they would be interested in it.

“I just enjoy welding, and they asked me if I wanted to do the competition for our FFA and I figured ‘Why not?’” said Rorick, a junior.

Fox helped them prepare for the contest, which is more like ag maintenance welding and is different than what he teaches in class.

For the beginner level, they had to do three stick welds, or shielded metal arc welds. For the advanced level, they had to do a combination of stick welding and metal inert gas welding. Both levels also had to do a 50-question written test.

The students are scored on safety, equipment operation and more, too. It’s all timed, and a final score is tallied.

“We sat down and I showed them exactly what to do, welded with them, showed them how to do it and turned them loose, and I just kind of poked my head in, gave them some pointers here and there to get them cleaned up,” Fox said. “They’ve been in here working on it. They’ve all been working pretty hard on it. I sent them a few things home to work on over Christmas, as well.”

This was the first time for Seymour FFA members to participate in the welding contest.

The boys said the equipment at Bedford was different and older than what they were used to, so that took some adjusting.

“One of the things I was worried about was the different type of machines we were welding with over there,” said Peters, a senior. “I could not get my routine figured out to save my life, and that was one thing that hurt me a lot, so Brayden kind of carried the team. I just couldn’t figure my machine out, and I did the best I could. It didn’t go the way I planned, but we made it work.”

Mellencamp, a sophomore, had similar issues.

“At first, I couldn’t really figure the machine out, and the instructor kept telling me that I had to use a certain setting I wasn’t familiar with,” he said. “Figuring out how to mount my plate up to this plate that they gave us was a little difficult. After I got it going, I think I finally figured it out.”

All four boys said the hands-on portion of the contest was their best and pushed them to the top of the team standings.

“I won the welding portion, bombed the test, it was terrible, but I had enough points for the welding that I could end up getting second,” Rorick said of the individual portion of the contest. “Personally, there was definitley improvement to be made there.”

Alberring, a sophomore, said he and Mellencamp didn’t do too well on the test, either, but they did better on the welding.

“I was real nervous at the start, and then I was like, ‘Well, there’s nothing to lose,’” he said. “The machine was eh, it wasn’t the best, and then the table was a real struggle. I couldn’t get the ground to work at all. It was a real struggle, and then I just started welding different angels and stuff and figured it out and welded better there than I did here.”

They expect the machines to be better at state.

“I just want to see how far we can make it because we’ve never done anything like this before,” Peters said.

“Just something different, something newer, seeing who is all there and seeing what it’s all about,” Alberring said of what he’s looking forward to at state.

SHS welding program takes off

After spending two years teaching welding in Shelbyville, Fox came to Seymour to start its program and had around 30 students.

The second year, that number doubled, and more welding booths were added.

This year, it grew again, as Fox started out with 88 students. That includes 14 students from Brownstown Central High School who come over to take classes.

“I was only teaching three blocks, so I had prep, so this past year when we saw it was going to blow up again, we weren’t going to add on anymore again,” he said. “The only option was for me to make a fourth block, so I opted to take four full blocks, so I have students from 8:30 to 3:30 every day.”

Fox attributes some of the growth to welding being a good-paying career. He has had students go from high school to the workforce, while some have gone on to welding schools for further education.

He has a handful at Hobart Institute of Welding Technology in Ohio, one of the top welding schools in the nation, and expects to have closer to 10 students going there this year.

Fox also maintains a list of local employers that hire welders. Those who go straight into the workforce as a welder could average nearly $20 per hour, he said. One of his former students is a year out of the program and started out at $35 per hour as a welder helper.

“We run a really high-level high school program, so I have a lot of kids just going straight to work that are doing really well,” he said. “I’ve gotten a couple of kids jobs with some contractors I used to use. I was a pipeline welder, so I ran pipeline for a long time.”

He said welders are definitely needed.

“I’ve had my own fab shop for years, too, so I’ve got a lot of employees, and it’s constantly harder and harder. … It’s tough finding good employees,” he said. “We work a lot in (the classroom) on what employers are looking for, what a good employee would be.”

Fox teaches four classes: Principles of welding, shielded metal arc welding, cast-iron metal arc welding and capstone, which would involve tungsten inert gas welding. All consist of classroom and booth work.

SHS follows the Indiana Department of Education’s Standards in Essential Need of Support, or SENS, program. Those standards contain content and skills essential for student success and for which data indicate students are performing significantly below expectations.

Second-year students go back to shielded metal arc welding to get their American Welding Society certification at the end of the year.

“I like it a lot better than just getting one generic certification because what it does, it’s got bookwork along with it,” Fox said. “There are nine portions they have to pass of bookwork, so they know the technical portions of those processes as well as the hands-on portion.”

Besides the good pay, Fox said another benefit of becoming a welder is the hands-on work.

“A lot of kids anymore don’t do a lot of hands-on work, so they don’t really have a sense of accomplishment or even push themselves to get something completed,” he said.

“When we start at the beginning of the year, that’s the biggest challenge is just continually push, push and push to get them to a certain point where they actually finish something because once they are in a booth, it’s theirs, and they practice, practice,” he said. “It’s always interesting watching them complete something on their own. Then there’s a switch that goes off, and then they are ready to go to the next thing.”

Even kids who don’t want to go into welding as a career, Fox said the program is good for them, too.

“They learn how to work with their hands. They learn how to think,” he said. “We gather résumés. That’s something we’re going to working on real shortly, so they learn a lot even if they don’t want to go into the field of welding. It’s a backup skill for them.”