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Students enjoy virtual welding competition
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Fennimore senior Blake Bender demonstrates a steady hand during the Welding on Wheels competition Oct. 19. - photo by Robert Callahan photo

Fennimore High School students took part in the Tulsa Welding School’s “Welding on Wheels” competition on Friday morning, Oct. 19 at Lancaster High School.
Welding on Wheels (WoW) features a VRTEX 360 virtual reality welding trainer. The visit to Lancaster High School was one of only 10 made throughout the state.
“It really promotes welding; a lot of these kids this week that maybe haven’t been in a welding class, maybe they are a little afraid of the sparks or a little afraid of the heat,” said Jim Krier, a High School Education Representative with Tulsa Welding School. “This gives them a great opportunity to get under there and try it.
“That is really what we want to do, is get the students interested in welding.”
Thirteen Fennimore students participated in the competition. Five other schools joined Fennimore at the competition, including Lancaster High School, River Ridge High School and Cuba City High School.
“There is a huge demand for welders right now,” Krier said. “It’s not just here in Wisconsin it is all over the country.
“There is a shortage of about 250,000 welders in this country. That comes from the American Welding Society.”
The Tulsa Welding School features campuses in Tulsa, Okla., and Jacksonville, Fla. Students can finish a program in seven to nine months.
The WoW program visits approximately 200 high schools across the country in a year. Prior to visiting Wisconsin, WoW made stops in Ohio, Arizona, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.
“We meet all the young kids,” said Mike Burns, driver of the WoW van. “It’s fun and the students get a taste of welding.
“At these competitions, it is your art students and cheerleaders that have a steady hand who turn out to be great welders.”
Blake Bender, a senior, turned in the top score for Fennimore with a 90 out of 100. He defeated senior Logan Chappell and junior Austin Helbing in a weld-off. All tied with an 88 in the first round of competition.
“I believe that every experience in education is a tool to success,” said Fennimore agriculture teacher Shelby Mitchell. “This welding simulation was a great experience, especially for the mind.”
Bender is a student in Shelby Mitchell’s Welding 1 class. He began using an arc welder, which was used in the competition, earlier this school year.
When not welding at school, Bender is rebuilding a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro at home, using primarily a MIG welder.
“I go on Craigslist and I look for cars and stuff to rebuild,” he said. “That is one that jumped out at me.
“I work on it about every day after school for two or three hours.”
The VRTEX 360 is a computer-based training system  and educational tool designed to allow students to practice their welding technique in a simulated environment. It promotes the efficient and effective transfer of skills from the virtual training environment to the weld booth, according to manufacturer Lincoln Electric.
“It was difficult, there were a bunch of different things you had to get used to,” Bender said of the trainer. “It was realistic.”
Following the visit at Lancaster High School, Burns and the WoW van were headed to Indianapolis for the National FFA Convention.