Jesse Wyatt shows up every day at the largely deserted Carroll County Career and Technology Center to practice electrical wiring.

The North Carroll High School graduate could be working, making money from the skills he has learned during his two years at the vo-tech center.

Instead, he is practicing for the National Vocational Industrial Clubs of America Skill Olympics in Louisville, Ky., this week.

"He's been in every day," said Charles Nightingale, the vo-tech's electrical wiring instructor. "Practice makes a big difference.

"Those who practice are better prepared. You can tell who has practiced and who hasn't."

Jesse is one of 20 Carroll vo-tech students, all first-place winners in the state VICA contest earlier this year, who will compete in the national contest. They will be competing against secondary and post-secondary students from 54 states and U.S. territories.

Some 176 Maryland students will participate in the weeklong eventat the Kentucky Fair Grounds.

Some 40 skill contests are set for Wednesday and Thursday. Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony Friday.

Carroll has the largest contingent of students from Maryland, said Chip Harris, state VICA director. Carroll students will be competing in motorcycle service technology, electronic product servicing, cosmetology, residential plumbing and collision repair technology.

The contest will involve about 9,000 people, including competitors, teachers, judges, staff and others. Some 250 businesses, laborunions and other organizations supply judges and materials for the olympics at an estimated cost of about $7 million, Harris said.

"It's an incredible operation," he said.

Traditionally, Carroll and Maryland students have fared well at the national competition. Carroll, for example, returned home last year with five winners -- two first-places, one second and two thirds.

In addition, Harris noted thatCarroll has won the Health Occupations Knowledge Bowl both years theevent has been run. Modeled after college quiz bowls, students must answer health-related and current events questions, he said.

"It'sreally a lot of work," said Kate Engel, vo-tech assistant principal.

She said the event can be stressful for students, who must wear proper VICA attire (red blazers, white shirts and ties) during variousceremonies, and white uniforms during contests.

The contests require students to demonstrate their skills in their particular field. Everything they do is given a point value.

Workmanship and accuracyare judged, as well. None of the students are identified by school or state during contests.

Prior to the contests, students receive aform outlining some of the tasks they may be asked to perform.

A motorcycle service technology student, for example, may be asked to determine an engine's condition or to inspect, service and reinstall an oil-foam air filter.

Carroll students will be traveling to Louisville by charter bus. VICA has had fund-raisers, including a flea market and candy sales, to finance the trip. Eight advisers will accompany the students.

"It takes that many people to help coordinate everything," Engel said. "These students are at different locations at different times.

"It's mandatory that they show up on time."

Carroll County Sun reporter Greg Tasker is accompanying the Carroll students to Kentucky. His exclusive reports will appear in our June 26 and 30 issues.

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