Tech students win championships
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
If the 50th anniversary celebration of North Central Kansas Technical College is anywhere near as successful as its performance at another 50th anniversary event recently, the college's golden anniversary activities should be a dandy.
NCK Tech, which opened in 1964 and now serves students at two campuses in Beloit and Hays, closed out its 2013-14 school year with a bang heading into the college's celebration this fall.
At the 50th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Overland Park last month, NCK Tech students won two individual national championships, as well as finishing second in a team event.
Curtiss Anderson from Burr Oak, who attended school on the Beloit campus, won the gold medal in the postsecondary individual welding division, while students under the direction of Beloit instructor Kyle Kopsa also placed second in welding fabrication team competition.
That trio included Joe Pfeifer from Hays, who decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncle, who both attended NCK Tech at the Beloit campus.
"He's a perfectionist, and that's good," Pfeifer said of Kopsa. "He's a great teacher."
Some of Kopsa's influence has rubbed off on Pfeifer, who said he almost was disappointed with the national runner-up finish he and classmates Jacob Arnold from Bennington and Joel Hayes accomplished.
"We were so confident, and I thought we would get first," said Pfeifer, who is headed to Coffeyville Community College in August to take a machining course. "But I was really glad for the opportunity to go to nationals, met a lot of people. I hope to go back in machining next year."
Kopsa, who grew up in Beloit and returned to his hometown to take over the NCK Tech welding program in 2002, had taken students to nationals nine times in his first 10 years and placed in the top 10 numerous times. But they never could seem to crack the top three.
They did this year, in a big way.
"We treat our program like work, and we have high expectations," Kopsa said in crediting his students' success. "And we get good students. They come to our program so that they can be the best."
That's why Nathan Kuhn said he chose to follow a former schoolmate of his at Victoria High to Beloit.
Kuhn won the state high school welding title and qualified for the national team competition along with Trenton Klaus and Bryan Dome. They represented Kansas well in Overland Park, finishing in the top half at nationals while competing as one of the smallest schools in the 35-team field.
"This was a really good experience for our kids," said Bruce Engel, Victoria High's trade and industry instructor who took a team to nationals for the first time. "It was a big stage, a lot bigger than anything they'd ever seen before. It would be fun if we could go back next year."
Coincidentally, the person who told Kuhn about Kopsa's program -- Isaac Dreiling -- also would have participated at nationals had he not had to go up against his own NCK Tech classmate, Anderson, at state. As it was, Dreiling finished second at state to Anderson, who went on to win the national title.
The Beloit program has grown so much it has added another instructor, and Anderson seemed the perfect fit. And Kuhn got to hang out with his future teachers at nationals.
"Isaac told me Kopsa is a phenomenal teacher," Kuhn said. "And I went up there for a college visit and really liked it. There's no slacking time, and I don't have a problem with that. I decided in middle school I wanted to be a welder, and I'm ready (for college)."
* Also claiming first place at nationals for NCK Tech was Cris Hayes from Clay Center in computer maintenance. NCK Tech also had several other top 20 finishers at nationals, including Derek Legleiter from Hays, who placed 16th in industrial motor controls.
In addition to all those honors, several NCK Tech instructors also received awards for 100 percent section membership for having 15 or more students of their program active in SkillsUSA.
One of those was Kopsa, as well as four others from the Beloit campus -- Bob Gibbens, auto service technology; Mike Cheney, carpentry; Brent Hubert, collision repair technology; and Kris Jones, diesel equipment technology.
Those from the Hays campus receiving that honor were Allan Hill, residential wiring; Bob Meistrell, welding; and Mark Rathbun, auto service technology.