Oconto Falls School Board recognizes gold medalist

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Oconto Falls grad won national sheet metal title in SkillsUSA
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Oconto Falls High School graduate Jared VanHaren describes to the school board how he crafted the piece in his hands, which earned him the school’s first gold medal in the SkillsUSA National Championships earlier this summer. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

The Oconto Falls School Board last month recognized recent graduate Jared VanHaren for becoming the high school’s first-ever national champion in the SkillsUSA competition.

VanHaren won a gold medal in the sheet metal competition by crafting a specialized connection in the SkillsUSA National Championships, which were held June 27-28 in Louisville, Kentucky.

His adviser, John Bursa, told the board that VanHaren scored 916 points out of a possible 1,000.

“There are nine different areas that you can be graded on,” Bursa said. “He attained the highest score on eight of the nine areas.”

VanHaren told the board the competition began when he was handed a three-page blueprint for a metal piece comprised of two round pipes at 90-degree angles, with one of the pipes opening to a round coupling.

He spent most of the morning working out the layout and math, and he noticed at the lunch break that other competitors were already building. But he made up for lost time after the break and finished about an hour before the 7½-hour time limit expired.

The square-to-round aspect was something he had done multiple times during his high school career, but he said the pipes at 90 degrees were new to him, although he recalled seeing the layout in books.

“I didn’t know how to do it yet; I kind of talked myself through it,” VanHaren said. “I did a little bit of math on the radiuses and how to lay it out, so it took me a while.”

Bursa had taught him how to roll the round pipes to create a better-looking device than crimping the metal, he said.

“Typically you kink it, but if you roll it, it works a lot better. So I rolled mine,” VanHaren said. “Obviously it worked out.”

Bursa said his former student was being modest in that the competition requires completing the job without consulting any outside resources.

“When you show up, (it’s) ‘here’s the blueprint, here’s the metal and here’s your tools,’” he said. “You have to know how to make all those fittings … and work your way through it.”

This was VanHaren’s third trip to the national competition and his third top-10 finish. He placed eighth in 2016 and fifth a year ago. It’s good exposure for the Oconto Falls SkillsUSA program, Bursa said.

After graduating in May, VanHaren is now using his national champion skills every day as an employee of Hurckman Mechanical in Green Bay.