A dicey start
The reports from Birmingham early last week were rather alarming; a vicious tornado was ripping through the area. A hotel was being evacuated, people were being told to hunker down indoors and visitors in town for the National Craft Championships (NCC) and staying at the Sheraton were hanging out in the ballroom as the storm raged on.

Those of us on the West Coast held our breath. It had been some time since we had sent competitors to the NCC. Would the competition still happen?

Fortunately, Mother Nature smiled on Birmingham the next day and as the tornado pulled out, our team of all stars flew in (Josh Hellinger, aka JD; Tyler Stauts; Jennifer King, Tyler's girlfriend; ABC NorCal Training Director, Roy Horton and ABC NorCal Carpentry Instructor, Kendall Purvis) excited and ready to go.

The carpentry competition
The NCC carpentry competition has two key parts: a written exam and a practical exam. The written exam is two hours long, consists of a 100 questions and covers all four years of apprenticeship training.

The practical exam is the competitors’ time to shine. They receive plans for a carpentry project and over the course of six hours, have to build it from the ground up. In the midst of all that, they also have to complete three side projects for the judges and have to be ready to be pulled away at any time.

“Kendall and Roy did a great job of preparing us for both parts; we were ready,” said JD.

As in any competition, the 11 carpentry competitors sized each other up before the start.

“We tried to guess who would be tough to beat and the end result was completely different,” said Tyler.
 
And the horn goes off, signaling the start
“I wasn't nervous going in, but the minute they handed me the plans, I got really anxious,” said Tyler. “It was hard to focus.”

“The side projects were a surprise,” said JD. “We didn't know that they were going to happen. I was working on a rafter when I got pulled away. That was unnerving.”

Despite the jitters, the distractions and the constant time check announcements, both settled in for the long haul. And they finished! A feat only accomplished by four of the eleven competitors.

“It was amazing to watch them both,” said Kendall Purvis, ABC NorCal carpentry instructor. “At one point you could tell that Tyler had realized that he was running out of time. You could literally see him kick it into high gear and pull it out.”

“For me, the best part was when I completed just minutes before the horn went off,” said JD. “It sounded and I sat back and looked at my project, thinking I did it! It was a moment of amazement and complete satisfaction.”
 
An after-party like none other
Once all of the competitions were complete, everyone pitched in to clean up. And then with little time to breathe, it was time to celebrate. The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) hosted the after-party at Sloss Furnaces, a former iron mill turned historic landmark. There was music, appetizers, dinner, drinks and even guided tours of the site that had shaped the city of Birmingham. It was a celebration befit champions.

And the next day? An awesome awards ceremony honoring all 157 competitors and the winners. Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded in each category. To the delight of everyone representing ABC NorCal in the room, Tyler took home the silver in carpentry! Both of our all stars received goodies galore and couldn't say enough about their entire experience.

“We both are so grateful to have had this amazing opportunity,” said JD as Tyler nodded emphatically. “Everything went so smooth, from getting picked up at our house and taken to the airport, to the hospitality in Birmingham. We can’t thank ABC NorCal enough.”

“Both JD and Tyler are great guys, humble, respectful," said ABC NorCal Training Director, Roy Horton. "We could not have asked for a better pair of individuals to represent us. I am proud to say these guys are graduates of ABC NorCal's Apprenticeship Program.

The next adventure
So what’s next for JD and Tyler? Both have expressed interest in helping recruit and mentor future ABC NorCal NCC competitors.

“We want to give back in some way. Share what we learned and prepare the next set of contestants,” said JD.

“ABC NorCal has given me so much. By the time I was in my fourth year, the program became my comfort zone. And I currently live a lifestyle that I never would have had had I not decided to join the apprenticeship program,” said Tyler.
 
JD agreed. “ABC NorCal took in a boy and made me a man. My lifestyle has also changed – I own a home, a truck, go on nice vacations. All things I couldn't have done without getting into this program and field.”

And beyond mentoring others in their field? The dynamic duo plans to get their contractor’s licenses together and take their skills to the next level.

From all of us at ABC NorCal, thank you JD and Tyler for representing us at the 2014 NCC and being such a tremendous example for those who follow in your footsteps! We are so proud of both of you!

Check out Flickr for more pictures of the NCC awards ceremony.

Megan Kilkenny is the Communications Director for ABC Northern California Chapter.