By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS, Staff Writer
POSTED: April 19, 2010
KAHULUI – Maui High School’s student auto mechanics kept up a winning tradition this weekend in Honolulu by capturing the top and runner-up spots in state competition.
This time around, seniors Bryson Higa and Lewis Drapete dominated the field at the 2010 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition by taking home trophies for the highest written exam score and being the first and only team to complete a “perfect” car in the hands-on portion of the contest.
Higa and Drapete’s instructor is Shannon Rowe, a 1996 Maui High graduate who won the state title in the same contest and went on to take second place on the national level.
This year in Honolulu, second place went to Maui High seniors Taylor Asato and Joseph Delara. They were led by instructor Neill Nakamura. In third place was a student team from Aiea High School.
King Kekaulike High School – the only other Maui school to compete – tied for fourth place with Moanalua High School. The Kekaulike team featured seniors Forest Lunstrum and Odmar Gil under the direction of instructor Petar Kovacic.
A second Kekaulike team picked up fifth place with senior Kealakaimilani Freitas and junior Jonathon Harris. They were advised by instructor Dave Masters.
The state’s best auto technology students competed Saturday at Leeward Community College, where they were given deliberately “bugged” 2010 Fords to demonstrate skills required of successful automotive technicians.
On any given day, professional auto technicians would make the same types of repairs to cars and trucks.
Higa concentrated “under the hood” by fixing the engine starter, while Drapete took charge of the electrical portions of the vehicle, including lights, car locks and accessories. They completed their tasks in 48 minutes, finishing comfortably ahead of their peers. Their closest competitors were Asato and Delara, who submitted their car more than an hour into the contest.
“It was fun and interesting and exciting,” Higa said Sunday.
“It was a good experience,” Drapete added.
Both students said they plan to pursue a career in auto mechanics after high school graduation.
By winning the contest, Higa and Drapete each received a $10,000 scholarship to attend a technical school on the Mainland and a $3,000 scholarship to participate in the Ford Assets Program at Leeward Community College. But they said they would likely pass those up to attend WyoTech, a tech school for auto and other mechanics in Sacramento, Calif.
Drapete, 18, of Kihei, and Higa, also 18, of Kahului, credited their win to Rowe for his advice, and to their friendship, which allowed them to easily communicate and work well together.
“He’s a real good instructor,” Higa said of Rowe. “He’s patient.”
Drapete said Rowe provided tips about the contest and encouraged them throughout two weeks of six-hour-a-day practices on cars.
“We worked really hard,” said Drapete, who gave up two weeks of judo to focus on the auto competition.
Rowe works as a full-time instructor at Maui High and has been supporting the program with his expertise as a former mechanic and supervisor at Valley Isle Ford for 12 years. “It’s something I enjoy a lot,” Rowe said Sunday. “It’s a way for me to give back.”
Aside from school scholarships, each member of the first-place team received a set of car mechanic tools.
Their state win earned Higa and Drapete the right to compete at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Championship in Dearborn, Mich., this June. It’ll be the first time they will compete, and the second year in a row that Rowe will accompany students as their instructor.
Maui High has had at least 15 national final appearances. The Sabers have placed in the top 10 for the past nine years and won national titles in 1995 and 2000.
In 2009, a Maui High team placed 14th at the national contest – one of the lowest scores ever for a Saber team.
Both Ford and AAA sponsor the annual state and national contests as a means to attract more young adults to a career in auto mechanics.
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.