The coronavirus pandemic didn’t prevent five Thomson High School students from winning top spots in the SkillsUSA state competition held earlier this spring. THS school officials were notified on May 11 that these high school students pursuing Career, Technical and Agricultural Education pathways were named state champions. This school year was the first year welding was offered as a CTAE pathway.

“This past month, Thomson High students in early childhood education and welding competed in Georgia SkillsUSA through a virtual online format,” said Dr. Steve Rhodes, CTAE director at THS. “Students competed in Welding Sculpture, Metal Working Display, and Early Childhood Education and received award medals in each area.”

Christopher Hollimon was awarded first place for his detailed eagle welding sculpture. Holliman also received a full tuition scholarship to the Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville, Fla.

The team of Mason Edwards, Gary Lambert, and Justin Grissom took first place in Metal Working Display for their Venus Fly Trap piece.

The welding program is under the direction of CTAE welding instructor Courtney Moser.

Bailey Norris earned second place in early childhood education. Norris completed the ECE pathway under the direction of CTAE teacher Lori Whatley.


The SkillsUSA competition assesses students’ mastery of skills based on current business and industry standards, according to Rhodes.

“SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit organization serving teachers, high school and college students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, including health occupations,” Whatley explained. “SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives working together to ensure America has a skilled work force.”

The SkillsUSA program strives to promote leadership, teamwork, citizenship and character development by instilling in students self-confidence, a strong work ethic, positive attitude and proficient communication skills, according to Whatley.

Thomson High’s local SkillsUSA chapter includes the automotive, cosmetology, construction, welding, and early childhood education pathways.

“Our students have competed and placed at region and state for many years,” Whatley said. “Not only do we prepare students for leadership and technical competitions, we perform various service projects for our school and community.”

THS SkillsUSA Chapter advisors include Jason Brooks, Robin Rowe, Steven Whatley, Courtney Moser, and Lori Whatley.

The winners

“Christopher Hollimon, first place state competition winner in welding sculpture, is a pathway completer and shows great potential in welding,” Moser told the Progress via email. “He is extremely motivated and hard working. The welding sculpture competition consisted of a welding sculpture, as well as a detailed notebook about the process, materials, and resume.

“Due to COVID-19, the competition was an online submission, but normally he would present the sculpture and notebook in front of a panel of judges and earn points for the oral interview, sculpture, and notebook presentation,” she said.

Moser said the metalworking team of Justin Grissom, Gary Lambert, and Mason Edwards created a welding project that consisted of a display board about job readiness and the career of welding, including an interview with Two State Construction; a notebook about the process, project materials, and resumes; and the actual welded project.

“Students completed an online submission due to COVID-19, but would have earned points for presentation, oral interview, overall project display board, and notebook,” the welding teacher said. “I am so proud of each one of them, and I am fortunate that Gary and Mason will be able to compete again next year. Justin is graduating, and I am glad that he was given the opportunity to excel at the state level. He is driven and demonstrates strong leadership skills. Whatever career he pursues, he will be a success.”

Moser said contests like the SkillsUSA competition helps welding students be well rounded. Along with welding skills, students must be able to use technical writing, make a presentation, and show their interview skills.

“In addition, they must be very knowledgeable about many aspects of welding as a career, because they have to answer questions from the judges,” she said.

“I look forward to preparing for next year's competition because I feel these students were shortchanged by participating virtually, even though it is the best way to keep students safe and healthy,” Moser said. “As a former SkillsUSA member and state and national winner in welding sculpture, there is no feeling like hearing your name called and walking on stage in front of your peers to accept a first place award. I'm just sorry they did not get to experience this.”

“Most people are surprised that an early childhood competition is included in SkillsUSA, but it is a region, state, and national competition,” Whatley said. “Teaching, and teaching well, is a technical skill. I am thankful that SkillsUSA believes the teaching profession is a priority and includes it among the list of contests. I am proud that my students are given the chance to begin strengthening these teaching skills in high school, instead of waiting until later in college.

“Bailey Norris, second place Early Childhood Education State Competition winner (and first place region winner), is a pathway completer and performed at a high level in her field experience placements,” Whatley continued. “She has worked with Mrs. (Amanda) Skinner and Mrs. (Jennifer) Henning at Maxwell Elementary School and has gained wonderful experience working with children. Bailey has been involved with SkillsUSA since she was a freshman, and now serves as one of our vice-presidents. She demonstrates leadership as well as service, and I am so proud of her. I can't wait to see what she accomplishes her senior year.”

Whatley said other SkillsUSA chapter members performed well this year. A number of seniors earned an honor cord, a red and white intertwined cord that signifies the official SkillsUSA colors, she said. These students are Rekiera Walker, Ananda Moody, JaShayla McNair, Jordan Johnson, Zaida Vasquez, Hunter Schell, Caleb Mims, Gavin Beverly, Tyreik Miles, Justin Grissom, Christopher Hollimon, and Daniel Lariscy.

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