Dozens of students from several schools throughout south Texas gathered at the Richard M. Borchard Fairgrounds in Robstown on Friday morning to compete in the American Welding Society competition, as part of the 79th Nueces County Junior Livestock Show.

The Craft Training Center of the Coastal Bend was there to support the 35 students from twelve schools that train through their services each semester. The students competed in two divisions, plate welding and pipe welding. Of those students competing, three Robstown students competed in the pipe welding division and two Calallen students competed in the plate welding division. Last year, Robstown won first place in the plate welding division.

"We train them in pipe fitting, welding, electrical and instrumentation. Our welding students are here today," said Mike Sandroussi, Director of Education at the Craft Training Center (CTC) of the Coastal Bend. "It takes a lot of hard work. It's just like athletics; you've got to practice, practice, practice."

Leading up to Friday's event, the schools competed for spots in the NCJLS welding competition, and only the best of the best were chosen.

"It feels good to be chosen to do this; to know that you are one of the top in your class," said Spencer Bates, first-year welder Calallen High School student."It's an honor."

"We've been readying for this for at least half a semester, just to prepare," said Gabriel Ybarra, third-year welder Robstown High School student. "I went to summer school and raised my levels three times and moved up. I'm the highest ranked one out of Robstown."

Sandroussi, retired Calallen High School principal states that many of the students that train through their services, including the ones in competition, are training for real world experience.

"We're trying to make it a real life setting, where they compete. Out there, it's a competition. The best welders make the most money; that's what it's about," said Sandroussi. "We're teaching them discipline, attitude, honesty; and every student that comes through us must take a drug test. We are producing a skilled, drug-free employee. They start anywhere from $20 per hour, all the way to $35 per hour, depending on what they get into."

The CTC Director of Education states that welding is an extremely in-demand field, with companies and industries all coming to the Coastal Bend, leading to an approximate 80-percent employment rate of certified students from the CTC entering into the workforce.

"Corpus Christi is becoming an industrial city, and the reason for that is because all of these companies are moving here, and it's only going to get better. The reason for that is Eagle Ford Shale," said Sandroussi. "If I was young, I'd know what I'd want to do; this would be it right here."

But before entering the workforce, these students were still just competing in this year's NCJLS welding event. In the end, one of the schools had to take the win. In the Pipe Welding division, CTC-trained Miller High School placed third; CTC-trained West Oso placed second; Beeville brought home the first-place trophy.