Ponoka’s Skills Canada team known across nation

“They’re super kids. That’s the only reason I stayed so long.” Dick Unruh

PCHS students Jen Sidwell

PCHS students Jen Sidwell

Ponoka has been put on the map by students from Ponoka Composite High School.

They attended the Skills Canada Nationals competition in Vancouver, B.C. with teacher Dick Unruh, June 5 to 8, and despite some nervousness, three walked away with medals. Winning the gold medal in carpentry was Josiah Pilon, silver medals were awarded to Jen Sidwell for tree grafting and Dustin Sejdl for cabinetmaking.

For Pilon the pressure was on. “I was kind of nervous. You’re representing Alberta, not just your school.”

He competed against 12 other carpenters and focused on his plans to get through the challenge, which consisted of seven hours the first day and five hours in the second. The framing was the toughest so he finished that on the first day. Nobody completed the task but his was closer to completion than any other person’s and his craftsmanship was of high calibre too.

Sidwell’s tree grafting presentation was on taking the branch of a younger tree and grafting it onto an older one. “I showed how to do four grafting methods.”

She felt the pressures of the national level of competition, and after seeing how other competitors did, felt sure she would not place at all.

“There was some really good demonstrating,” explained Sidwell. “Honestly when I did my demo, I thought I blew it.”

Winning the silver medal was a complete shock.

With competitions such as this, Unruh provided this advice, “Expect the unexpected.”

Sejdl had 13 hours to build a coffee table with a sliding drawer that opened up on both sides. He was going at a steady pace and arrived at the machines needed for the job first, but lost time later on. Other competitors were also able to use his machine settings to catch up.

“It was perfect!” stated Unruh proudly. “He was the best cabinet maker there.”

Sejdl will take lessons from this year to make perform better. “Next year I’ll be a lot faster.”

Scott Pylypow also won a bronze medal in the post-secondary category.

Unruh’s last year

After 20 years of teaching, Dick Unruh has announced he is retiring. For the students it will be a big loss.

“He’s the best teacher for it, hands down,” stated Sejdl.

“He’s all about the students, not just the medals,” added Sidwell.

Unruh is proud of how well his students have performed over the years and their hard work. “They’re super kids. That’s the only reason I stayed so long.”

He wants to spend his free time building an extension to his home and a shop but will miss the Skills Canada competition. Unruh is confident the current group of students will perform well in the next few years.

“They should continue to win for the next three years. I’ve got a young team,” explained Unruh. “We’re known all over Canada because of our Skills Canada kids.”

Despite his intention to leave, Unruh hopes to volunteer some of his time next year to help those who still want to complete. “My pleasure in teaching comes from watching my students do well.”