By JEFF MEYERS
---- — WILLSBORO — Lee Sloper Jr. has turned a passion for fixing things into a potential career following a successful run at state and national competitions recently.
Sloper, who graduated from Willsboro Central School this past spring, enrolled in a small-engine repair program at CV-TEC during his senior year, and the experience opened his eyes to a field that he had always found interesting.
“I’ve always liked being able to build things, to take things apart and put them together again,” Sloper said from his home recently. “I kind of like how all of the parts (in small engines) work together. Anything I could rip apart I was able to pretty much put back together again.”
Sloper received his first dirt bike a few years ago, and he and his father, Lee Sloper Sr., worked together on fixing the engine to improve the bike’s condition.
“That’s half the fun (in owning a dirt bike),” he said of the ability to work on the engine to make the bike as good as it can be.
He took his mechanical prowess to a higher level once enrolled at CV-TEC.
“I’ve always been a quick learner,” he said. “When I’m taught and shown something, I’m able to do it. I look at something, think about it, figure it out and go forward with fixing it.”
That ability to learn through hands-on activities seemed special to Michael Bova, Sloper’s CV-TEC instructor.
“I only had Lee for his senior year,” said Bova, noting that most students coming through the small-engine repair program spend two years working on the process. “He has a good work ethic, an outstanding work ethic.”
As Bova realized that Sloper was showing some special skills with engines, he asked the teen if he would be interested in entering the state competition for small-engine repairs.
“It’s huge,” Bova said of Skills USA, which oversees the state and national competitions. “There is major corporate sponsorship at both the state and national level.”
The state competition was in Syracuse, where Sloper won first place and a ticket to Kansas City, Mo., to compete at the national level.
“It was a great experience,” he said of the nationals, where he finished 12th out of 24 top-notch junior mechanics.
“These were some phenomenal kids from huge schools with budgets for a lot more training devices than we have,” Bova added. “Lee did a really good job (at nationals).”
Competitors would be given scenarios that featured certain problems with motorcycle engines, and they had to identify the issue and how to correctly make repairs.
Bova praised Harley Davidson for what he called an impressive and professionally organized program and added special appreciation for Lake City Choppers in Plattsburgh for its technical support.
He also praised Sloper’s parents, Lee Sr. and Rhonda, for their unending support for their son and his decision to move toward small-engine repair as something he is interested in spending a lot more time on.
Wally Vanderhoff, a retired teacher and administrator from Willsboro, also played a pivotal role in helping the young Sloper find his interest at CV-TEC.
“I’m proud of where he brought himself from,” Vanderhoff said of Sloper’s ability to succeed in the program. “He was a shy young man throughout most of his years in school. Once he discovered his niche at CV-TEC, he’s become very self-motivated. He’s reached his potential in a very short while.”
His success with small engines has also strengthened his self-confidence, Vanderhoff added.
“He will be able to combine that confidence with his training to become a very productive young adult. I’ve learned something from him. If you put yourself out there and take a couple of risks, you can find what comes natural to you.”
Through his success in the state competition, Sloper has won a scholarship to a technical school in Ohio. He hasn’t yet made the final decision to accept the award but believes he may be heading to the Midwest in the spring or next fall to continue his small-engine training.
Looking further into the future, he would like to one day own a small-engine repair shop, specializing in motorcycles and four-wheelers.
Until then, he will continue to do what he loves the most:
“I’ve just bought a new bike,” he said with enthusiasm. “I’m getting ready to rebuild it.”
Email Jeff Meyers:firstname.lastname@example.org