CIHS senior Tim Saxton brings home gold from National SkillsUSA

Greg Hunt

Tim Saxton capped off his high school career at Cambridge-Isanti by winning the gold medal in welding at the June 20-24 National SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City, Mo. Saxton is the first Bluejacket to bring home the top award from the annual technical gathering.

In the Welding division at State and National SkillsUSA events, contestants need to show proficiency across a combination of skills in the trade: Arc, MIG, TIG, flux core welding and Oxy Fuel Cutting.

“I work on the same thing until I figure it out. I’ll take advice from people and then modify it so it works better,” said Saxton.

Cambridge-Isanti High School graduate Tim Saxton of Bradford, accepts his gold medal in Welding at the National SkillsUSA Conference in Kansas City last month.

“Burnsie (CIHS welding teacher Ed Burns) did tell me once that the reason Tim wins all the test welds that they do in class is that he practices the most,” said Tim’s mother, Stacy Saxton.

Also competing at National SkillsUSA from CIHS were Calvin Waligora (13th in Welding Sculpture) and Skye Hunt-Schuft (Carpentry). Over 5,600 students from every state in the nation competed in the SkillsUSA Championships. Industry support for the championships is valued at over $35 million in donated time, equipment, cash and material.

Entrants, who earn their trip by taking 1st at State SkillsUSA competitions, spend five days in Kansas City. After Monday’s travel and “chill” day, Saxton took a 50-question written test and did a speech at orientation on Tuesday which counts toward the total score. Wednesday was the college-level competition, then Thursday the high school students picked up the torches for an eight-hour session.

From the family’s basement during the interview, Saxton carried up the various test welds and cuts on metal plates he performed at Nationals. He explained the differences of high-quality welding, along with showing the perfectly symmetrical circles he free-hand cut with the oxy torch.

A key piece to winning was following the blueprint directions to exacting measures, and the specs change from year to year. Contestants have one hour to complete each level in the welding division.

“From a mom’s perspective, I think Tim seemed a whole lot more relaxed this year at Nationals. It really helped to be there the first two years. The Arc project is a really tough one, and it was new last year,” said Stacy.

“I knew absolutely nothing welding before my high school freshman year. Quarter one that year, I took Welding I with Mr. Doom. A few years earlier, I heard a rave report about the high school welding program from Charlene O’Hara, and that got me interested,” recalled Saxton. He took Welding II that same year, then he applied himself in Vocational Welding his sophomore and junior years. “And this year, I did just a bunch of independent studies to keep going.”

He won the CIHS welding competition his sophomore year which allowed him to go to the State SkillsUSA event. He placed 1st there and placed 26th at Nationals. He repeated the successes his junior year at CIHS and State SkillsUSA, moving up to 9th at Nationals in Kansas City.

Along with scholarships and even job offers, SkillsUSA contestants can win incredible tool packages for their efforts. This year, Saxton’s prize list included a Milwaukee 3 1/2” grinder, a Miller MaxStar Arc/TIG Welder, a Matheson welding helmet, an oxy/acetylene welding & cutting set-up and a pipe trades calculator.

“I build trailers in my free time– work on cars, fix stuff for people,” said Saxton. “My grandpa has called me to do welding projects ever since I took Welding I.”

The gold medal is a fine feather in the cap for long-time CIHS welding teacher Ed Burns.

“I did not have prep periods, teaching four straight periods this spring, so I was not able to give a lot of help to Tim between the state and national competitions. And, you know, a lot of seniors may get ‘senioritis’ in the spring, but Tim did this on his own– he knew what he had to do,” said Burns. “Tim getting the gold at Nationals SkillsUSA is a nice way to end my career. We’ve had a lot of Minnesota golds (at state competitions), and a silver and bronze at Nationals, but we’ve always wanted that gold.”

Burns officially retired from teaching at the end of this past school year, but District 911 is having difficulty replacing him so far. If needed, Burns said he could return to teach two trimester terms this coming school year.

“The goal is to always keep the welding program growing strongly,” said Burns, who is also honored to be considered for an official’s position at future National SkillsUSA competitions.