John Welsh is a veteran school bus driver at Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pa. Here, he discusses the joys and challenges of school bus safety competitions, including his recent second-place finish at the international championships.
Veteran driver John Welsh discusses the joys and challenges of school bus safety competitions, including his recent second-place finish at the international championships.
I have been driving for 25 years now and have participated 22 times in the county school bus safety competition.
The annual Montgomery-Bucks competition is held in late April. We at Lower Merion take a team of about 10 drivers to this event with the hope that we can win not only on an individual level, but also at the team level.
The theme of the day is to have fun and have some laughs. When doing so, you are bound to learn something about yourself and something about safely driving a school bus.
Before the competition, we try to practice when possible, although it is tough some years due to personal schedules not meshing well for a group practice session. I have grown closer to a lot of drivers that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to without this event. We have support from our management; they provide us with the time and equipment. Our managers also participate in the Montgomery-Bucks safety competition as volunteer judges.
During the competition day, we share ideas on how each of us thinks you can make it through an obstacle; this is where the growth of skills comes in to play.
Over the years, Lower Merion’s team has brought home many first-, second- and third-place team trophies.
The Pennsylvania state championship is held in late June in State College, Pa. Our district has consistently sent multiple drivers to this event. We usually have at least one representative, but it tends to be two or three. A few times, we had four drivers go to the state competition.
The state competition is tough. The drivers attending at this level already had to place in the top 10 of their county competition. At the end of the day, Lower Merion drivers have repeatedly placed in the top 10 in the state and have gone on to represent Pennsylvania in the international competition.
Over the years at the state competition, I have made quite a few friends. We may only see each other on an annual basis, but we always have a nice “hello” and handshake or hug for each other. It is a competitive but friendly contest for most of us. We have become kindred spirits.
This year, I was fortunate enough to place second in the state competition, which allowed me to go to the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in Tulsa, Okla., with three other representatives from Pennsylvania.
In advance, I was able to practice with two of my friends who have experience in this contest. They watched me go through each simulated event and critiqued me. I credit this practice for my second-place finish in the transit (Type D) category in the international competition. My gratitude goes out to Jim O. and Kim B. for their support.
My family has always been supportive of me during this time of year. They know it is what I do. Both of my sons, Jack and Andrew, have grown up watching me participate in school bus safety competitions. My lovely wife, Mary, has always been really supportive of me. Listening to me rant about scores after every competition has helped me more than she knows.
I have many fond memories from the competitions. For years, my parents and sister would come to support me. My father was a truck driver who loved this driving competition. He most liked when “his name” was called at the awards ceremony. My mom would cry if my name was called — she was so proud of her “little boy.”
These days, I keep my parents in my heart, as they are only here in spirit. I find myself saying, “Let’s do this, Pop!” prior to each time I approach the course. Win or lose, I know they are there with me.