School buses packed parking lots across the Cherokee Trail High School campus on June 12.
Dozens of buses bearing the Cherry Creek School District logo and motto trundled across the asphalt on the bright, sunny morning, and unlike a regular school day, drivers didn't have to compete with the vehicles of students, teachers, staff and parents for space. On this day, the buses ruled the roost, and drivers from across the state took full advantage of that liberty.
School transportation professionals gathered at the school for the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association's annual Bus Roadeo competition, a contest designed to test drivers' skills and know-how. It was the first time a CCSD facility hosted the event, and the district's team of drivers were on hand to show off their skills as they matched their skills against those of drivers from across the state.
"We come out here as a team, and it's fun for us. It's a way of taking away the stress that comes from the work we do every day," said James Buchanan, a CCSD driver who ended up taking first place in the conventional competition. That means he'll go on to compete in the national School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in Philadelphia, Penn. on July 21 and July 22. "But regardless of who wins out here today, the kids are the ultimate winners, because all of this is making us better drivers for them."
The event featured plenty of tests designed to make all of the participants better at their craft.
In one section of the parking lot, they navigated buses through a diminishing clearance test, a challenge that forced drivers to squeeze their big, bulky vehicles through narrow spaces. Another section of the lot saw drivers attempting to precisely steer their buses so that their rear tires would pass through narrow gaps between tennis balls set out on the pavement. Others tested their skills at parallel parking, and still more had to identify a set of defects that had been purposefully arranged on buses (bum lights, broken doors, etc.). The trials weren't limited to the parking lots; inside Cherokee Trail, drivers and engineers took written tests. To add to the event's overall feeling of fun and celebration, collectors also parked vintage autos in front of the school as part of a small-scale car show.
"Do you see why we need such a big place?" said Debbie Kinemond, manager of CCSD's East Terminal and current president of the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association. "We do a full week of preparation and planning. We have state directors, managers and supervisor. We have everybody contributing to this event."
All of these professionals work together to create tests that serve a dual purpose. Even as they test participants' knowledge, the trials also seek to inform and hone existing skills.
"Sometimes we fog a bus. Sometimes we give them a scenario like they've been in a three-car pileup and their front and back doors are inoperable. What do you do? Who do you evacuate first? What kind of care do you take in doing so?" Kinemond said. "This hones our drivers' skills like you wouldn't believe."
Drivers from CCSD have fared well at the state competition over the past five years – in 2013, Timothy Schlieker won first place in the state competition; in 2014, Ray Goik earned the honor; and in 2016, Wanda VanZonnefeld took second place in Colorado. She went on to take first in 2017. James Buchanan kept up a tradition of excellence in taking first in conventional in the 2018 contest.
Three of the four past state champions are still employed by Cherry Creek Schools, and members of the team said that the longevity is due to the feeling of camaraderie that comes from working for the district's transportation department.
"We have a family feeling," said past state champ Wanda VanZonnefeld. "It's fun to come out here with them, because you get to practice and you get to know your bus. It makes you better as a driver."
The CCSD Transportation Roadeo Team: (From left to right) Wanda VanZonnefeld (4th place finisher in Conventional Division, Maria Alvarado, Josh Gonzales (13th overall, Conventional Division), Tom Lynch (Driver Supervisor for Cherry Creek Schools located out of the East Terminal), Deb Kinemond (Terminal Manager of the East Terminal), James Buchanan (1st Place, Conventional Division), Anna Pires and Crystal Bustamante (3rd place, Special Needs Division), Rick Loya, Stacy Williams (16th overall, Conventional Division), and Cynthia Beaman (7th Overall, Conventional Division).