Hilliard Northwest News

No spurs necessary at this rodeo

Hilliard hosts regional safety competition for central Ohio bus drivers


More than 60 school bus drivers from several central Ohio school districts competed in a regional Ohio School Bus Driver Safety Road-E-O competition Saturday, May 3, at Hilliard Heritage Middle School.

The participants included Pamela Woerlein, 55, a bus driver of 17 years for Marysville schools.

It wasn't Woerlein's first rodeo. (It was her second.)

She was, however, the first driver on and off the course.

"It's a lot of fun and I also do it to support my school district," Woerlein said.

Woerlein drove as part of a team in the rodeo.

Some drivers competed as individuals, but four-driver teams also were permitted. The highest score of one of the drivers was used in each category.

"We've been practicing for months," Woerlein said.

Drivers received the dimensions of the course last month and could duplicate the course in advance.

Marysville and Westerville had the most participants in the competition. The host, Hilliard City Schools, also was represented.

Other districts sending drivers included Big Walnut, Columbus, Dublin, Licking Heights, Newark and South-Western.

To begin the morning, drivers took a written test worth a maximum 100 points. The remaining points -- a perfect score was 725 -- were drawn from a variety of parking, mobility and agility tests behind the wheel of a bus.

Tests included curb-line parking; a reverse serpentine in which a driver backed through a set of offset orange cones; depth perception; a turn-around; and simulating student drop-offs and pick-ups.

This is the third year Hilliard has hosted the event.

The location changes but sites are limited to schools with parking lots that can accommodate the course, said Steve Simmons, director of transportation for Columbus City Schools.

Simmons worked as a starter at the event, ensuring drivers entered and left the course at the proper intervals.

"It's all about becoming the best driver possible but also about having fun," Simmons said.

Simmons, who said he has worked the event for 17 years, estimated the rodeo started about 35 to 40 years ago. It is sponsored by the Ohio Department of Education.

Steve Smith, 64, a driver for Westerville, said he was competing in his sixth rodeo.

Smith said he took a job as a school bus driver in 2009 after retiring from AT&T.

"I tried retirement," Smith said. "It lasted about 18 months and then I needed something to do."

Mickey Hawkins, 66, a driver for Westerville, took his first turn in the rodeo.

A veteran of the U.S. Army who retired from Ameritech, Hawkins had no problems with executing intricate maneuvers with a school bus that are not often called for on the road, he said.

"I drove some rather big and bulky things in the Army," Hawkins said. "I heard Westerville needed some drivers, so I showed up. I'm having a blast."

Aside from recognition and boasting rights for achieving the highest scores, winners received plaques and medals, as well as gift cards and marketing merchandise from area businesses and vendors.

Eight regional events were held May 3. The top six drivers from each region are eligible to advance to the state School Bus Driver Safety Road-E-O, Saturday, May 17, at Licking Heights High School, 4000 Mink Road in Pataskala.

According to organizers, the top six drivers in the regional competition in Hilliard were:

* Steven Rucker, South-Western City Schools, 633 points

* Denise Colley, South-Western, 611

* Anita Cordell, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools, 607

* David Creighton, Columbus City Schools, 605

* Steve Smith, Westerville City Schools, 604

* Pamela Woerlein, Marysville City Schools, 588

State winners can advance to an international competition in July.