EDITOR'S NOTE: Carroll County Sun education reporter Greg Tasker spent the week of June 24 covering county students at the national vo-tech competition. Here are his final thoughts.

When the bus rolled into the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster, there were no "Welcome home" or "Congratulations" signs, only a small group of parents who offered an enthusiastic round of applause.

"There should be a band to welcome you," instructor Charles Colson told the students, who spent a week in Louisville, Ky., competing in the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America Leadership Conference and Skill Olympics. "You deserve it."

Indeed. Three of the 20 vo-tech students garnered medals -- including one gold -- in individual competitions in residential wiring, electronics product servicing and a job skill demonstration in the art of making a body corsage.

In addition, five students competing as a team in the health-occupations knowledge bowl won a silver medal. They successfully answered dozens of questions about health-related issues and current events.

"We are thrilled to win," said team member Stacy Davidson, a Westminster High School and vo-tech graduate.

It was the third consecutive year the school's health-occupations knowledge bowl team had garnered a medal in the national competition.

Although they have been recognized statewide and nationally, the students and their school still wrestle with an undeserved reputation that they are less than their academic counterparts.

And it's unfair. These secondary and post-secondary students, after winning at the state level earlier this year, spent countless hours honing their skills for the national contest.

Students like Robert Clark, who won a bronze medal in electronic product servicing, not only have exceled at the vo-tech school, but at their home schools, as well. The Westminster High graduate pursued a rigorous academic track to prepare himself for a four-year college.

These students were at their best at the national contest, where they competed in their respective skill areas against dozens of others fromacross the nation, Puerto Rico and Canada.

They did themselves, their school and the county proud. We weren't too far along on the 12-hour trip to Louisville when students began pulling out their VICA materials and skill manuals to study. There was no rowdiness, no foul language, no disrespect of the instructors, chaperons and parents who accompanied the students.

These students knew what their job was. There were few stolen moments of freedom during the days leading to the competition. They may have soaked rays at the motel's pool, but they studied there, too.

Instructors like William Weller, Donald Ripley and David Brumit spent considerable time reviewing materials withtheir students and escorting them to contest-related meetings and programs.

It was one concerted effort. Everyone was part of the team.

And the team was impressive. These instructors, all of whom gaveup a week of their summer vacation and time with their families, were among the most dedicated educators I've met.

During competition,they paced the perimeters of roped-off contest areas, keeping an eyeon the progress of their students. Afterward, they consoled the losers. Hopes may have been --ed, but in their eyes, all the students were winners.

Perhaps plumbing instructor Brumit said it best: "As long as they give it their best, that's all you can ask. We sweat, but they're the ones who carry the load."

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