By Alex Lippa
When Steve Quimby came to Whittier Regional High as a freshman, he had no idea which vocational program he wanted to specialize in.
He spent one week in each of the 20 programs Whittier offers during the freshman exploratory program. One of the programs impressed him the most — masonry.
"All the work that (masons) do really was interesting," Quimby said. "They make everything look nice and it's something I wanted to explore more."
As Quimby approaches the end of his junior year, he might be the best mason that the school has ever seen. Quimby, an Amesbury resident, won a gold medal in masonry at the statewide SkillsUSA competition in Marlborough last month and will compete in the national competition in Kansas City in June.
"I had some confidence going into the competition, but I had no idea that I was going to win," he said of the regional event.
Quimby had to build a 4-by-3-foot block wall which had to be precisely bricked and mortared. He was judged on the levelness, plumb (vertical evenness), range, measurements, uniqueness, safety and jointing of the wall. The other challenge he had to meet was working under a time limit. The wall had to be built in just seven hours and he didn't quite finish it, but his work was still good enough to receive the top prize
"It's difficult to have to do it so quickly,'' Quimby said. "I've tried to practice doing things quicker in the shop. ''
Ray Morneau has worked with Quimby and has helped him get his materials quicker and offered other tips to cut time off his projects. Morneau is in his first year of teaching masonry at Whittier and is impressed with the skill level that Quimby has reached as only a junior.
"He's a special student," Morneau said. "He's really driven. Anything you tell him to do, he'll do. He just jumps all over it. He's a pleasure to work with it.''
Outside of the competitions, Quimby uses his masonry skills to help with projects around the Whittier campus. He recently finished building a block wall for the new baseball dugouts as well as an archway which goes over a path outside of the school. He is part of a crew that is putting down new brick for the handicap ramp outside of the school.
Quimby beat out 11 other students from vocational schools around the state to earn his trip to Kansas City. He expects the competition there to be a lot more difficult than it was for the gold medal he won last month.
"I expect to have to make something bigger and more detailed in the same amount of time," he said. "It's going to require a lot more hard work and effort to finish well.''
In addition to Quimby, two other Whittier students will be headed to Kansas City to compete at the national SkillsUSA competition. Emiliano Rodriguez and Andrew Slejzer won a silver medal in 3D Design Visual and Animation, but were selected to qualify for the national competition after the Massachusetts gold medal winners were unable to attend.
In his spare time, Quimby plays soccer in the fall and works at Shaw's supermarket. He doesn't do any masonry outside of Whittier, but he hopes to go into the field in the future.
"I really enjoy doing it," Quimby said. "It's fun and it helps me relax a lot when I'm focused on a project."
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