Eighth graders participate in Skilled Trades Ninja Madness Finals


By Charlotte Caldwell

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PIQUA — Shelby County eighth graders participated in some friendly competition at the fifth annual Skilled Trades Ninja Madness Finals held on Feb. 27 at the Duke Center at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua.

“This activity’s mission is to expose students to the tools and skills used in construction and skilled trades careers that can be found in Shelby County,” said a press release from Workforce Partnership of Shelby County. “This year’s Ninja season ran from October 2023 to February 2024 and the team traveled to nine different local school districts in Shelby County (including two visits to Sidney Middle School and a visit to Lehman High School). 637 students (567 eighth grade and 70 freshman students) from around Shelby County had the opportunity to participate in the Ninja Skilled Trades competition.”

“The Ninja Skilled Trades competition is a 12-foot-long hands-on course, designed by company organizers. It is a one-on-one contest involving construction tools which includes a drill, hammer, tape measure, screwdriver, and plumbing PVC pipes. The course pits two students against each other as they complete all six skill stations, all while a timekeeper is tracking their progress,” the release said about the Ninja competition at each school district. “While the Ninja teams’ primary goal is to offer exposure to skilled trades, the team also manages to make it fun. At the end of the day, the top three males and females with the fastest times received awards and qualified to participate in the countywide Ninja Madness Finals.”

The fastest time for the course at the schools was 30.5 seconds. In the final competition, wire stripping was added to the course and the activities were in a different order than what the students did at their schools. Students were not timed at the finals since they competed one-on-one with another student or team and were eliminated if they lost.

“Fifty-four eighth-grade students from Anna, Botkins, Fairlawn, Fort Loramie, Holy Angels, Houston, Jackson Center and Sidney Middle School participated in the competition, followed by prizes for the top three male and female winners along with prizes for the fastest school team. The students also received a complimentary lunch provided by The Cornerstone @8811 and sponsored by ABC Ohio Valley and Workforce Partnership of Shelby County along with door prizes. The Ninja team is led by Area Energy & Electric, Ferguson Construction, Slagle Mechanical, Workforce Partnership of Shelby County, and Upper Valley Career Center,” the release said.

Prizes for the top six winners included a medal, an Igloo cooler, a Carhartt beanie, gift cards and more. For the boys, in first place was Dane Reese, of Jackson Center; in second place was Lucas Taylor, of Houston; and in third place was Jay Wildermuth, of Botkins. For the girls, in first place was Taylor Platfoot, from Holy Angels; in second place was Olivia Maier, of Houston; and in third place was Emily Fuller, of Anna. Each school district also competed against each other with six-person teams, and Russia won.

Workforce Partnership Programming Coordinator Shelly Barhorst said while some school districts allow other grades to participate in the competition, the finals are for eighth graders only to gather interest in skilled trades and encourage the students to research programs in the area for these professions.

“Limiting the competition to one grade level ensures a more level playing field among participants. Younger students won’t be at a disadvantage compared to high school students who may have more practical experience or feel overwhelmed or outmatched by more experienced participants. It allows for a fair and focused competition environment,” Barhorst said.

Some of the competition’s winners mentioned wire stripping as the hardest part of the course. They also had experience with the tools before the competition because of being taught by family members with trade skill jobs. Some of the winners mentioned they also placed in their school’s Ninja competition.

First-place girls winner Taylor Platfoot said kids from her school, Holy Angels, won last year. The hardest part of the course for her was drilling, and her favorite part was meeting people from other schools. She learned to stay calm while completing the course.

First-place boys winner Dane Reese beat his cousin in the competition, and they had a deal that the winner had to give a prize to the loser. He also won first place at his school. His favorite part was using the drills, and he had a lot of experience going into the competition.

Houston Junior High and High School Principal Jeff Judy commented on the two Houston students who placed and the opportunities Workforce Partnership gives students.

“It’s great to have the Ninja team come out to the school, as they get to interact with the kids and people from the businesses get to interact with the students we have, and getting to come out here, it’s just another opportunity for the kids to get exposed to the career center, Workforce Partnership, and to all the opportunities that exist employment-wise within Shelby County,” Judy said.

Tom Bergman, the human resources manager at Ferguson Construction, came up with the idea for a skilled trades course 15 years ago for a teacher in Sidney. He got other local businesses involved so he could encompass many aspects of skilled trades in the course.

“We’re a general contractor but we work with electricians, plumbers, concrete guys, just all different kinds of sources, and we work together, and it’s a great thing to do the Ninja together,” Bergman said. “At the career center they have electrical, plumbing, HVAC, all of that, and you can work your way up the ladder like I did because I started real low and just got up and got ownership of the company.”

“In my opinion, over the last 10 to 15 years, their attitude towards wanting to work is much better than going to college because it pays just as well,” Bergman said of the students who compete in Ninja.

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