Saturday is typically a day off for school bus drivers in Clarke County, however on April 9th a group of dedicated drivers gathered at the Clarke County Department of Transportation and Maintenance on Ramsburg Lane for a voluntary skills competition. The annual event tests drivers with real world driving challenges that are judged for precision and procedural accuracy as drivers navigate traffic cones, tennis balls, and elusive street curbs.
The day began early with staff preparing the official course. Obstacles and paths are set-up based on information provided by the Virginia Association for Pupil Transportation (VAPT). This same course will be used in the statewide competition to be held in Norfolk later this year. The winner of Clarke County’s competition will move on the state competition and could ultimately compete at a national level.
Once the course was set up, Department of Transportation Office Manager, Sue Harrington walked the route with contestants. Drivers were introduced to their list of challenges and the scoring details for each. Harrington instructed contestants on parallel parking saying, “You must back into the parking area and get as close to the curb as possible without hitting it or the cones. Dr. Murphy will be checking your rear wheels for distance from the curb. The front can be off but your rear wheels must be as close as possible to the curb.”
The optimum distance for scoring was 0-3 inches. Demerits were assessed for being further from the curb. Touching the curb or a cone at any point was a disqualification. Other scoring components included, proper signaling, failure to set the parking brake, sounding the horn, and keeping bus doors closed throughout procedure. Superintendent Mike Murphy was the volunteer judge for the parallel parking competition. Commenting on the drivers’ work, Murphy said, “It’s pretty incredible to see what these people do with these school buses. We’re real proud of them.” Murphy also added, “It’s a pretty special group of people that drive our buses here in Clarke County.”
The full list of events and scoring included:
- Written Test – 100 points
- Pre-Trip Inspection – 100 points
- Right turn event – 50 points
- Stop line event – 35 points
- Back up Event – 50 points
- Offset Alley Event – 50 points
- Student Pick-Up Event – 25 points
- Railroad Crossing Event – 50 points
- Straight Line Event – 50 points
- Diminishing Clearance Event – 50 points
- Parallel Parking Event – 50 points
Five Clarke County drivers took on the course and competed for the top spot. In the end there could be only one to hold the coveted role of top Road-e-o driver. When the buses were parked and the final scores were tallied, Will Nelson had won third place,
Marie Sangaline had won second place, and veteran bus driver, Randy Gray came away with a first place victory in the competition. Randy said, “This is the first time I’ll be going to state’s, after 8 second place finishes.” Randy has been a Clarke County bus driver since 1972. He drove 16 years and then transitioned into the much needed substitute driver position. As an added bonus Randy won first place as he celebrated his 56th birthday on Saturday.
Randy will continue on to compete in the twenty-seventh annual VAPT School Bus Road-e-o that will take place on June 23, 2011 to be held at Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Virginia.
Congratulations to Randy and all of the dedicated drivers who participated in the competition.