They made three-course meals, designed posters and constructed two- and three-dimensional drawings on computers.

And even though five Howard County School of Technology students gave it their best, they did not return home with any medals from the annual Vocational Industrial Clubs of America Skill Olympics here.

Howard's best, all first-place winners at the state level, competed against 3,000 gold medalists from 49 states, Canada and Puerto Rico during the daylong competition Thursday. The winners were announcedat an awards ceremony Friday.

Although none of the students placed in the top three spots in the national contest, Wayne Ridgeway, thevo-tech's job-placement coordinator, described all the contestants as winners.

"No matter what happens, we still have the best kids inthe state in these categories," he said. "This is a very competitivecontest. To even walk away with an honorable mention means a lot."

The VICA contests are run, supported and judged by representative from business and industry. Students from high schools, vocational-technical centers and junior and community colleges compete.

For manycontestants, the Skill Olympics meant plying their skills for several hours Thursday in roped-off areas with dozens of other students dressed in VICA attire (red blazers, white shirts and black ties) or white uniforms.

They performed in the view of hundreds of passers-by,hoping to win gold, silver or bronze metals. More than medals were at stake, though.

Michelle McPadden, a Howard High School graduate who competed in the advertising design contest, was hoping to win a full scholarship to the Philadelphia Art Institute.

"I think this contest is neat," she said. "They have olympics for athletes, so why not have skill olympics for students?"

Shaun McCarty spent the morning preparing a menu of hot items, including an appetizer, soup and entree. The 22-year-old Harford County resident, who is enrolled in Howard Community College's culinary arts apprenticeship program, prepared cold dishes in the afternoon.

Unlike the other Howard competitors, though, McCarty competed in the post-secondary division, cooking against dozens of other students whose ages and experience varied broadly.

David Joey Davis spent about eight hours in competition too.

Among other activities, the Glenelg High School graduate designeda poster for a VICA function, completed a rough layout indicating which typefaces he would use and the location of various elements -- and then prepared a camera-ready product.

His effort in the printingtechnology contest were judged on neatness, accuracy, design and other considerations, such as design, harmony and presentation.

Tae Hyung Kim, a 19-year-old from Mount Hebron High, spent the morning designing machines and other items in various dimensions on a computer in the computer-assisted design competition.

Although the Ellicott City resident said he was nervous about his first national VICA contest, his concerns were somewhat eased by the hours had had spent studying at home and during his stay in Louisville.

Debbie Rackley, a Hammond High School junior, competed in the medical-assistant contest.The 16-year-old had to perform solo CPR, identify bones and instruments and deal, one-on-one, with a patient waiting to see a doctor.

Tammy Nuse, a 17-year-old Howard High junior, didn't compete in the Skill Olympics but served as a national voting delegate, listening to campaign speeches as she prepared to choose officers.

Even so, herschedule was as demanding as the contestants'.

"We have meetings every day," said Tammy, whose mother, Janet, came along as a chaperon. "It's not as stressful but you're kept busy."

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