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Auto students take 2nd in state

OHS seniors Nick Welch (left) and Conner Booth took second place at the state finals of the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition. Between them is their auto teacher Dan Balsley. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
April 20, 2011 - Oxford High School seniors Conner Booth and Nick Welch work together like a finely-tuned engine that just rolled off a Detroit assembly line.

That's why the two auto students took second place at the state finals of the annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition held April 13 at the Macomb Community College Expo Center in Warren.

"I'm really pleased with that," said OHS auto teacher Dan Balsley. "It was a great showing on their part. We trained hard for this. We studied everyday during spring break, trying to prepare for it."

"They're both smart kids that put in a lot of time and dedication. I expected first or second place out of them, so I wasn't too surprised," he added.

"I'm ecstatic about it," Booth said. "It's a great feeling to know that nearly 1,000 students took the test and only 20 made it (to the state finals). And out of those 20, we're in the top four."

"I'm pumped that we took second place. I felt really good about that," Welch said. "I wanted to win it for Mr. B, but I'm happy with second place. There's nothing bad about that."

Booth and Welch competed against two-student teams from eight other Michigan high schools. Normally, 10 schools compete, but two dropped out and one replacement was found.

Each of teams was given a 2012 Mustang plagued by eight identical electrical and mechanical malfunctions (i.e. "bugs") purposely placed by Ford engineers.

Each team had to diagnose and repair all the "bugs" in the least amount of time.

Both Oxford and the first place finisher, Saline High School, fixed every "bug" except for one – a cam shaft sensor.

"This engine actually ended up having eight cam shaft sensors and one of those on the rear of the cylinder head was bad," Balsley explained. "That was a very difficult bug because there's a number of these sensors and that one is really hard to get to . . . That seemed to be a problem with all of the teams. It was a tricky one to find and repair."

Saline's team beat out Oxford because they had a faster hands-on time and a higher score on the written exam taken on-line back in February.

Saline had its hood down and its Mustang ready for judging in 66 minutes and 54 seconds. On the written exam, Saline's team scored 77.

Booth and Welch had their hood down in 84 minutes and 26 seconds. On the written exam, they scored 70.

Balsley isn't at all disappointed that his students took more time because he trains them to be as thorough as possible when it comes to their workmanship.

"I've always told the kids they need to have a clean car to win, which is usually the case," he said. "Their instructions were to stay on it until they got it right."

Saline's team took a "real gamble" by closing the hood early and going into judging with one bug remaining, in Balsley's opinion.

"If anyone else had a clean car, it would have beaten them," he said. "But as it turns out nobody had a clean car."

For their efforts, Booth and Welch each won $30,000 in scholarship offers from five well-known schools – Lincoln College of Technology, Ohio Technical College, University of Northwestern Ohio, Universal Technical Institute and Lincoln Technical Institute. They also won a variety of tools and other prizes.

Balsley wished to thank Skalnek Ford in Orion for loaning them a 2011 Mustang to practice on and Szott Ford in Holly for allowing them to work on a 2012 Mustang.

Given the 2012 models aren't available at most dealerships yet, Balsley said his team was "really lucky to find one."

"I don't think any other team was able to find one of those," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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