By Chris Kieffer
Lee County will be well-represented at this spring’s national bridge-building championships.
Three teams from the Tupelo Public School District and one from Guntown Middle School will compete in the May 28 Louisville, Ky., event. It is sponsored by the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials.
“It is an amazing opportunity for them,” said Stephanie Phillips, who sponsors Guntown’s team. “They have to use real-world experiences in math, science, English and technology to construct a bridge, test it and create a portfolio.”
This is the first year for Guntown’s program, and Phillips said it has been exciting to watch it have success quickly.
Tupelo has regularly qualified for the competition, but each time is meaningful, said Tupelo Middle School teacher Connie Gusmus.
“The competition has gotten more rigorous and more competitive, and our students have had to up their level to be invited to the national competition,” said Gusmus, who coaches the Tupelo teams along with TMS teachers Julia Smith and Holly Bailey. “Every year, the competition changes and presents different challenges to the students. It makes them grow.”
Teams are chosen for the national competition based on a 30-plus-page portfolio they created describing their bridge and how they made it. Three teams were chosen in each of three divisions, and they were notified this week.
At the competition, teams also will be judged on their balsa wood bridge’s strength-to-weight ratio and on a presentation they will make.
Tupelo High School has two teams in the ninth- and 10th-grade division. “Dem Blankets” features James Grant, Luke Tucker and Clayton Sewell, and “BOK” includes Katerina Kushla, Jo Orrick and Kai Brieck. All six are sophomores.
Tupelo Middle School has a team qualified in the seventh- and eighth-grade division. “The Troika” features seventh-graders Sarah Daniels, Victor Milev and Abagail Grant. Guntown’s “Dixie Builders” team of seventh-graders Luke Smith, Brandon Dillard and Paslay Adkins also qualified in that division.
Guntown’s Luke Smith is the son of Tupelo coach Julia Smith. He had seen his mom involved in the competition in the past and inquired about the school starting its own team.
“I thought it would be fun to do so,” he said. “We got friends together, and we did it.”
The teams also will compete in the state competition April 7 in Jackson.