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Competitions had not been on Ediberto Garza’s to-do list. Instead, Donna ISD’s Career and Technology Welding teacher challenged his students by having them focus their talents on projects for the annual Rio Grande Valley LiveStock Show.

This year, Garza decided that it was time to find out how gifted his students were compared to other high school welders so he entered them in the SkillsUSA competition. One of his teams from Donna North High School fared well, winning the district title in the Welding Fabrication category. The three young men – seniors Felix Aguilar, Carlos Alvarez and Juan Orozco — went on to state competition in Corpus Christi where they went up against 12 other schools. Each group was given seven hours to prepare an open barbecue grill and complete a written technical test.

“I know my students are good welders and know their way around the shop,” Garza said. “But when you participate in a contest, you have to do things a certain way. The participants have to follow a rubric which my students are not used to doing. They also have to be quick and follow all the safety procedures.”

Garza said the students visited with other participants who had competed at state before and won. They also met team members from Odessa, Texas who had practiced building their project two times before to prepare for the competition.

“My students didn’t have a chance to practice because they were working on projects for the LiveStock Show,” Garza said. “But once the competition started, they felt good about their work. They didn’t think they were going to win but they thought they’d make it in the top five.”

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Much to their surprise, the DNHS group captured first place. Aguilar said the team had left the competition and were heading home when they heard the big news. “We couldn’t believe it at first,” Aguilar said. “We thought it was a joke from the teachers who called us. They told us we had won first place. We were like ‘you guys are playing with us right? You’re going to tell us that we didn’t win, right?’ Then we heard from our principal. That’s when we confirmed that we had actually won state. We felt a sense of accomplishment that all our hard work paid off.”

Garza said while he and his students were overjoyed, the nerves began to kick in. That meant they will be heading to Louisville, Kentucky June 19-23 to compete at the national level. His team will be representing the state of Texas.

“We were ecstatic,” Garza said. “It was a wonderful feeling but it was a very quick good feeling because now we have to think about the national contest. It’s not like when football teams win state championships. They get to brag about their victories forever. But in our case, we still have one more contest. So, we can’t really enjoy the moment because we still have to prepare for nationals.”

1R3A3087The students felt the pressure when they were told by contest organizers that Texas hadn’t placed at nationals in years. “It’s a lot of pressure because they told us that Texas hadn’t finished in the top eight in the last eight years,” Aguilar said. “They wanted us to do good enough so that we could place in the top 10. They said nothing less would be acceptable.”

“I thought oh my gosh, now we have all this responsibility because now we’re representing Texas,” Garza said. “I have to prepare them because we can’t look bad in front of the whole nation or Texas. We’re it. We’re the team representing our state and so we have to practice and prepare.”

As their teacher, Garza is remaining optimistic. He hopes his work with them and the knowledge they’re gaining as dual enrollment students at South Texas College will shine at nationals. “I’m excited because I love the competition. I want to know where our students are as far as what we’re doing in Donna that other people in other states are doing. Are they better than us? What do we need to work on and what do we need to do to get better?”

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