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St. Helens teen earns national award for construction skills

Richard Sass earns 16th place award in carpentry showcase in Kentucky

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Richard Sass, a senior, works on a playground shelter at St. Helens High School during his independent carpentry class on June 2. Sass earned a first-place state award for his construction skills in April before qualifying to compete nationally.A St. Helens teen was nationally recognized for his carpentry and craftsmanship skills during a SkillsUSA Championship competition held in Kentucky in June.

Richard Sass, a senior at St. Helens High School, was one of 6,000 students from across the nation to attend the competition that showcases 86 contests geared toward testing students’ aptitude in technical and skilled sciences, occupational fields and leadership development skills. Sass earned a 16th-place award in the carpentry competition and was given a Skill Point Certificate, an award given based on meeting a certain scoring threshold for a particular industry in the competition.

The competition marked Sass’ first national conference. In April, he won a first-place award at the SkillsUSA Oregon chapter state championship, which qualified him to attend the national event. Last spring, Sass earned a second-place award at the state level. Going to the national conference was a unique experience, he said.

“It was kind of unreal,” Sass said. “I didn’t give much thought to it before I got there. I figured I would just go and do my thing, but then you get there and look up and there’s [6,000] people sitting there in the stands and you kind of go, ‘Oh, whoa.’”

Students who compete in the carpentry category are given 40 minutes on day one to study blueprints of a structure they must build entirely on their own. Day two gives the students time to plan and think about the process. Day three of competition is when the physical work begins. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sass was challenged to build a 5-foot 10-inch tall frame that would support a sheeted roof, an octagonal window, a back door and siding on a 4-by-8 foot platform, a process he described as “pretty much non-stop work for eight hours.”

Going into the competition Sass said he was nervous, but he felt confident about his skills after seeing the plans laid out in front of him. During the construction phase, Sass joked that he learned several lessons the hard way, including the old construction adage, “Measure twice, cut once.”

“It doesn’t feel like you’re nervous, but when you screw up [the cuts on a board], you’re like, ‘Oh no,’’” Sass said.

Contestants are judged not only on the quality of the finished product, but how closely they followed the provided designs and diagrams. During the building process, judges also look at how well students organize their workspace, which portions of the project they complete first, and what safety standards are followed when using tools, saws and other equipment.

Despite setbacks, Sass performed sufficiently to earn the 16th-place award. He hopes to qualify and improve next year.

During the three-day conference, Sass said he also learned about a variety of trade-based education options he could pursue after high school. Sass has been working with his dad’s plumbing company for several years as well as taking construction and building classes at St. Helens High. With those skills, he said he hopes to pursue work in plumbing, construction or general contracting.