Club members display their victory medals for placing in the top 10 at the national competition. Photo courtesy of SPHS SkillsUSA.

A South Pasadena High School club is not only gaining popularity locally but is beginning to capture nationwide attention with its winning ways at the highest level of competition.

SkillsUSA, an association serving middle school, high school and college students preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled occupations, has doubled in membership at SPHS and last summer placed nine of its club members in the top echelon of competitors nationwide at the final competition held in Louisville, Ky.

“I am so proud of these students, all of them,” said SPHS SkillsUSA Advisor Sandra Matson-Fennell. “They just did incredible at the nationals.”

The club members competed in different categories in the vocational-based contests, including community service, occupational safety, action skills and video game design, to name a few. Each category requires the club members to show and demonstrate how they would create the most effective video game, community service or action plan for a service.

Liz Osoy, Peter Suh and Sebastian Chinen placed third in the nation in community service while Natalie Terhune, Drew Sevilla and Valeriya Smaliy took fifth in occupational safety. Damian Ugalde and Max Wildersmith took sixth in game design, and Henry Balding placed 11th in action skills.

Matson-Fennell said the club was especially proud of Balding for placing 11th because he operates under an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). IEP’s are for students that may require special attention because of an educational challenge, according to Matson-Fennell.

“He finished 11th and that’s just incredible,” she said. “Don’t forget, these kids had to first compete in regionals, then at the state level to even get into the nationals.” Overall, she added, the students competed against more than 50 students nationwide. The nationals were held June 18 to 24.

Meanwhile, SPHS senior Jaydan Kemanian said he’s running to be the SkillsUSA parliamentarian because the club has grown exponentially since he first joined as a freshman as well as excelled in the competitions. A SkillsUSA parliamentarian organizes events and provides the leadership to get things done. Or as Kemanian describes it, “I do all the leg work.”

Kemanian said the club has caught on because it focuses on vocational industries with a high skillset.

“This club is amazing,” Kemanian said. “Two years ago, we had about 200 members, maybe 250. Last year we had more than 400.”

Add the recent victories at the national level and the club is as vibrant as ever, he said.

“For the summer nationals, we had nine people place at the national level,” Kemanian said. “This is a new record for us. This club has changed my life.”

Kemanian is getting ready for what he calls “club rush,” which starts in a couple of weeks and is where students sign up for a school club.

“We will then see how we have grown even more,” he said. “I expect it to be quite high.”

Steve Whitmore
Author

Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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