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Hassan George of New London was so nervous waiting for his chance to seat and serve judges at the Connecticut SkillsUSA competition that he had to take a walk to calm himself down.
The 16-year-old student at Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School in Groton waited four hours to showcase his skills during the event that draws technical high school students from across the state to compete in a trade.
"I was the last to compete the whole day," he said. "And I went in alone."
He won first place in restaurant service and will advance to the national competition June 23-27 in Kansas City, Mo.
Grasso Tech sent 71 students to the state competition on March 28 to test their skills along with 1,200 others, and the school brought home finalists in seven trades: Carpentry, collision repair, cosmetology, culinary arts, residential wiring, restaurant service and technical drafting.
Grasso also ended with finalists - or students in the top six - in nine leadership areas including job interviewing skills and customer service.
In restaurant service, students from Grasso took home first, second and third place in the state.
"This is what I call them," said Sandi Jameson, SkillsUSA advisor for the school. "The best of the best."
George said the judges told him he was the best.
"To hear them say that made me feel better and more confident," he said.
Harlie Sellman, 17, of Norwich, took two technical exams to place third in "skill connect drafting" and "related technical math."
"It was one of the harder tests I've ever taken," she said. But she finished the math exam, which had a two-hour time limit, in one hour and 15 minutes.
Dan Perkins, 17, of Ledyard, placed second in residential wiring. He had to wire an area to meet national standards within two hours. Judges watched while students placed electrical boxes, bent pipes and attached their work to a wall.
Perkins said he was disappointed he didn't get first place. "I want to get into my trade," he said of his plans after school. "I want to be an electrician."
Grasso Tech teaches academics along with 11 technical programs, including computer-aided drafting and design, hairdressing and automotive technology, so students finish school with a trade skill.
Mack Foster, 17, of Pawcatuck, won first place in "skill connect drafting" and placed as a finalist in job interviewing and job skills demonstration.
For the job skills competition, he had to choose a skill outside his trade and demonstrate it. Foster is studying drafting, but showed judges how to install breaks on a bicycle.
Tristan Pepin, 18, of Ledyard, went through steps to make blueprints. Pepin, who placed second in technical drafting, said the skill entails turns a 3-dimensional model into a 2-dimensional drawing manufacturers can assemble. "I liked how we could get a chance to showcase our skills," he said.
Vanessa Parra-Hirschi, 17, of New London and Serenity Kidd-Brewer, 17, of Groton, also placed as finalists; Parra-Hirschi in T-shirt design and Kidd-Brewer in customer service.
Mariel Duran, 16, of New London, finished second in cosmetology. She wants to be a doctor someday. "I like beauty and you clean about the body and anatomy" by studying cosmetology, she said.
Alex Zinz, 17, a culinary arts student from North Stonington, cooked his way to a third-place finish. He had to de-bone a chicken, make soup, salad and an entree with dressing and sauce while judges watched. Other students cooked nearby, he said.
Zinz served cream of vegetable soup, pan-roasted chicken breast, sauteed green beans and carrots, and fondant potatoes, or potatoes cut into cylinders and browned in butter.
"I was pretty happy with what I produced," he said.
Xavier Robinson, 15, and Paola Cruz, 16, both of New London, took second and third place in restaurant service.
Cruz said it helped that they brought their own materials and were prepared.
"We had a one-up on that," Robinson said.
Cruz said at one point she made a mistake; her judges ordered soup and there was no soup spoon on the table. They had to ask for one. But she knew she'd make up the points later.
She said, "I still kept going."