Indiana Sheet Metal Workers Local 20 apprentices from Evansville, Fort Wayne, Gary, Indianapolis, Lafayette, South Bend and Terre Haute competed in the Indiana Ultimate Apprentice Contest April 4-6 at the Indianapolis training center.

Over the course of three days the all-star group made up of five first-year, two second-year, six fourth-year and nine fifth-year apprentices competed in service, industrial/welding, architectural, HVAC, and testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB). Jason Benson, Local 20 training coordinator, said of those, four were returning champions.

Judges named a top apprentice in each discipline. In addition, for the first time this year, the scores across all five were added to arrive at the top three ultimate apprentices.

Benson said the apprentice who won the overall contest would receive a custom trophy, donated by D&V Precision Sheet Metal in Greenfield. The trophy will travel for display at the ultimate apprentice winner’s school or hall until the next year’s contest.

“Joe (Potesta, the center’s director of training) and I went and met with the owner,” Benson said. “And Joe gave them a few ideas on the concept and they designed it, and it is awesome.”

In addition to the trophy for the top winner, the top three received a combo kit donated by Dewalt, a shirt donated by American Medals, a Lowe’s gift card and a crystal trophy.

The top apprentices in each category included Tyler Little, architectural and HVAC, a fifth-year apprentice from Terre Haute; Mike Besse, service, a fourth-year apprentice from Gary; Aaron Garcia, industrial, a fourth-year apprentice from Evansville; and Grant Wilmes, testing and balancing (TAB), a first-year apprentice from Evansville.

Wilmes said he was surprised, especially when he heard how close the scores were. Not content to rest on his laurels, the Purdue mechanical engineering graduate vowed to return next year and do better.

“I had a lot of fun,” Wilmes said. “And out of 200 in TAB, I got 163, so I can try to improve.”

The ultimate apprentice award went to Ben Offerle, a fifth-year apprentice from Fort Wayne. Garcia placed second with Little in third overall.

Offerle never expected to win, especially not at this, his first competition.

“I was going to do it my first year, but then it didn’t work out,” he said. “This time of year came around, and I thought, you know, it’s my last chance. I’d better at least try for it. And now I’m here.”

Winning projects were displayed on the table, and after a quick glance, Offerle knew not a single one of them was his.

“I did OK in all the events,” he said. “But after seeing these up on the table. Those are good. Those are so good.”

He was especially proud of his copper pipe brazing in the service competition. “And it was only my second time ever braising. It still turned out good. Not that good, but I’ll take it, I guess.”

Offerle’s instructor Ricky Coleman dabbed his eyes as his apprentice took the big trophy.

“I thought he would do very, very well,” Coleman said. “He’s an awesome student, does everything that’s asked of him, goes above and beyond. He’s done well. Very well this weekend.”

The contest projects were designed by Local 20 instructors. Scott Bush was in charge of the TAB competition. Brent Hoag designed the architectural challenge, which had apprentices fabricate a copper ogee conductor head. Coleman took on the HVAC challenge while Jim Dempsey designed the industrial project and Sean Webb designed the service project.

“These guys put in a lot of extra time on their own,” Benson said. “They worked evenings, they came in early, they came in on Saturdays. They wanted to come up with challenging projects, and I think they did that. I think everybody will agree who competed.”

The competition wasn’t just about awards and winning as Trent Todd, business representative for the Indianapolis Area, pointed out at a Friday group dinner.

“It’s a great experience getting to know guys from different areas, and you’ll cherish that down the road,” he said. “I want you guys to mingle with others. I appreciate everyone getting to know other areas and getting to know other people. That’s a lot about what this contest is about.”

Local 20’s Indianapolis training center is one of 148 across the United States and Canada and is supported by the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and provides curriculum, training materials and instructor training free of charge to more than 14,000 registered apprentices and journey persons.

For more information about ITI and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit the website or call 703-739-7200.