Fifty-four school bus drivers from throughout California filled the Galt Market grounds on Saturday and Sunday to compete in the State Championship Roadeo.
Some 45 districts qualified for the the state school bus driving championship, including the school bus force shared by Galt’s elementary and high school districts, who competed against drivers from San Mateo County, Watsonville, Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego. Lodi Unified School District and the small districts of Oak View, New Hope and Arcohe didn’t make the finals.
Galt was represented by Theresa Lambert, Maria Castillo, Melanie Hamon and San Hopper.
“We work well under pressure,” Lambert said. “We were sweating bullets here.”
Hamon said that they didn’t know what to expect, since state officials change the competition every year.
The top eight will go to the national competition in Oklahoma.
Galt’s drivers didn’t make it, but they said they felt honored being in the top 50 in the state — out of 26,000 school bus drivers in California — to qualify for the state finals.
“I think it was an honor to be here,” Hopper said. “I’ve only been a bus driver for a little over a year. It helps us to be better bus drivers. I’m glad to be able to represent Galt.”
Drivers were tested on making precision moves making turns “within inches of being perfect,” said Kevin Sellstrom, event chairman for the California Association of School Transportation.
“I think maneuvering the bus around obstacles helps us on the road,” Lambert said.
Drivers had to perform such tasks as backing up the bus accurately between stakes 10 feet wide and making proper turns.
Galt High engineering student Mason Holland said he enjoyed setting up the course and being one of the judges.
“It was fun to learn about all the different kinds of buses and how they maneuver,” Holland said.
Christopher Flores, also a student in Brooke Beckett’s engineering class at Galt High, was busy checking the accuracy of bus driver’s backing up. Beckett said she hopes to get more students involved next year.
The event attracted Tom Torlakson, California’s superintendent of public instruction. A former science teacher and a track and cross country coach in Contra Costa County, Torlakson said he’s ridden a lot of school buses on field trips, so the roadeo was of interest to him.
Torlakson proudly stated that California has a better bus driver safety record than any state in the nation.
In addition to observing the roadeo, Torllakson tried driving a school bus through the Galt Market lot after being given a quick primer by event officials.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.