A.C. Jones High School students, Caleb Zander and Alfredo Benavides, competed in the American Welding Society’s 14th annual Mike Mylnar Memorial Welding Contest at the Nueces County Junior Livestock Show in Robstown, Texas on January 13th. Zander and Benavides were one of 21 two-man pipe welding teams. The teams were required to weld two four-inch pipe sections squarely to a four-inch pipe diameter slip on flange. A one-inch collar also had to be tack welded to the pipe nearest the flange. This collar had to be precisely two-holed with the flange. The fabricated assembly, which had to be welded in the uphill position, was bolted to a rollout wheel attached to a fabrication table. After the one-hour time limit was up, visual and x-ray inspections were performed to determine which students produced the highest quality welds.
Zander and Benavides knew they had the silent support of their A.C. Jones High School classmates, family and friends as they fit, tacked, and welded the different components to create the final product. The pair spent months working after school and over Christmas break. They practiced measuring, leveling and welding scraps of metal to prepare for the event.
“This is what Caleb’s passion is, and we didn’t even know it until he started,” said Janine Zander, his mother. “The class is the thing that opened up the door for him and his future. We’ve seen a huge difference in him. He’s motivated and driven now.” She went on to say that the opportunity has given him a career path he otherwise never would’ve known about. “We’ve started looking at different colleges. It gives us a lot to talk about with his future.”
“Welding has provided a bright future for many in the Coastal Bend counties of Texas, and the school’s programs help prepare students for careers in the industry”, said Ellery Francisco, one of the founders of the welding competition and chairman of the AWS Section 153. “The impact on the community is huge. Shop class used to be for the failing kids. That was just a place to push off kids who couldn’t make it in regular classes. But a lot of these kids are more geared for hands-on learning. So when they get in these classes, they see the math applied, and it makes it easier from a learning side,” Francisco said. “These kids come out of school, and it gives them a sense of self-respect.”
“Those kids got out of minimum-wage families from West Oslo, the Southside and the Westside,” Francisco said, choking back tears. “It gives them a career.” During the competition, though, Zander and Benavides’ minds weren’t concerned with their careers. They continued to huddle over the welding table while other contestants turned in their projects and lined up for lunch. The pair were falling behind. Recognizing this, Caleb’s mother Janine was getting anxious, fidgeting with her fingers as the minutes ticked by. “They’ve been walking by telling them to hurry,” she said. “I lost track of how much time they have left.”
A.C. Jones High carries weight at the welding competition. The contest’s late co-founder and namesake, Mike Mylnar, was a welding instructor at the school. Today the school’s program is run by Richard Beasley, a leader who emphasizes detail and quality in his students’ work. “If these kids want to get into the industry, it’ll require people who have the desire to put the kind of weld that’ll last longer than the pipeline,” Beasley said.
Back at the competition, time was running out for Caleb and Alfredo. Judges visited their table more frequently as the boys’ motions quickened – grinding down the metal that still glowed red. Ultimately, though, the boys couldn’t beat the clock. As time expired, they threw up their hoods, revealing faces clogged with soot and disappointment. The incomplete weld would be judged “as is”.
Though the boys’ visions of first place honors never materialized, they left the competition with valuable lessons. “You just put so much time into it, and it just shows you never know what to expect,” Benavides said. “Everywhere you go, it’s going to be a different challenge. You just keep getting at it and working to be better.”
Want to learn or reacquaint yourself with the basics? Visit AWS Learning to find out about engaging, online courses like Fabrication Math, Welding Fundamentals, Welding Safety, Welding Symbols, and more.