Palestine High School welding students took top honors at competitions in Fort Worth and San Angelo – two of the state’s biggest agriculture mechanics contests. The two FFA competitions are part of the so-called Majors – the largest agriculture mechanics shows in the state. Later this month, the young welders will compete in San Antonio for hefty scholarships of up to $10,000 per student.
Students invested hundreds of hours in each project over the past 6 months. Many arrived at 7 a.m. and continued after school four days a week – as late as their instructors would allow.
“We’re teaching them if they don’t work hard now, they won’t reap the benefits later,” said Joey Perez, who joined PHS faculty this year. Perez works with Gary Scoggin, another skilled welder, third-year teacher, and PHS graduate. A veteran agriculture teacher, Perez brought the experience of mentoring teams to create winning designs and prepare for competition.
A group of four seniors and one junior built a 24-foot cattle trailer that beat 645 other projects and placed best overall in this week’s San Angelo competition.
The cattle trailer placed first in class, Grand champion in the Gooseneck Trailer division, and won the 2020 San Angelo Agriculture Mechanics Overall Grand Champion of the show.
Painted maroon with the wildcat mascot, the trailer cost $13,000 in materials and could sell for twice that amount, but PHS will use it for hauling cattle to livestock shows.
The hard work pays off in competition and life. Palestine students can graduate high school with a welding certificate and start earning about $45,000 a year. Normally, earning a certificate in welding would take a year after high school graduation, but Palestine High School students can start working on their certificates as sophomores.
Finding a job in welding is not a problem, either: The current demand for welders exceeds the number of people preparing for careers.
Not surprisingly, enrollment in the welding program has jumped, from about 60 students last year to almost 170 this year. After graduation, welding students can continue at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens or Texas State Technical College in Waco.
Students said the cattle trailer demonstrates innovative ideas and craftsmanship; building it helped them learn skills in organization and responsibility. “It turned out better than we thought,” said Christian Martinez, 17.
“The judge said he hadn’t seen a group in his six years of judging weld as well as we did,” Alan Cruz, 17, said.
Besides building the trailers, students must memorize specs and present their projects to judges, who scrutinize their work.
A team of eighth-grade students built a 20-foot bumper pull that ranked second in class and won the reserve grand champion in the bumper pull division. The eighth-grade team said their project, which weighs 1,200 pounds and can carry roughly one ton, won over 50 others in San Angelo. “We had to know everything about the trailer and everything we used,” said Carter Graham, 14.
Scoggin and Perez said they drilled the students on spec, until late at night and got them up at 5 a.m. the next day to be ready for competition.
“We tell them, ‘You’ve got to be on your A game right off the bat,’” Scoggin said. “One judge told me, ‘These kids looked me in the eye and shook my hand and were knowledgeable about their projects.’”
Local companies hiring welders include Eagle Railcar and Bandana Installation in Elkhart, Union Pacific Railroad in Palestine, and smaller machine shops. Welding careers are also open in oil fields and other industries around the state, nation, and world.