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St. Ignatius teen to compete at national tournament

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ST. IGNATIUS — In 14 years as a shop teacher, St. Ignatius High School’s Matt Young has seen thousands of students learn, grow and excel both as individuals and within their respective trades. 

Even so, Young said he’s never had a student place higher than third at the state level. 

Until now.

St. Ignatius High School junior Ryce Hegwood took home first-place honors at Montana’s Skills USA’s 42nd annual State Leadership and Skills Conference at the MSU-Northern campus April 8-10. 

More than 350 students hailing from 35 high schools around the state competed in events ranging from arc welding to basic welding, automotive service technology, basic wood technology, power equipment technology and more. The win guaranteed Hegwood a spot in the national tournament to take place in Kansas City, Missouri, June 27. More than 6,000 state competition winners are expected to compete in 98 different trades during the week-long competition.

“This is the first student I’ve ever had qualify for the national competition,” Young said. “It’s pretty neat. There’s usually some good competition up there, and I’m proud of him.”

Young said there is no real way to train for the competitions other than general practice with woodworking, “because you never know what the competition is going to be. You show up, they give you the plans and you just have to build whatever they tell you to.”

Hegwood won the competition by building a lap desk in four hours at the state competition, but nationals will probably yield a much larger project, like a cabinetry set with drawers. 

“If you look at last year’s national packet, it’s pretty intimidating,” Young said. “But, we’ll spend a few days here over summer break before we go down there, just trying to practice on the packet from last year. We’ll try to do that project and hopefully that will get him whipped into shape for nationals.”

Hegwood said he’s loved woodworking since childhood and is very excited for the experience of competing on a national stage against fellow state champions from around the country. 

“I just try to get in the shop as much as I can,” he said. “I’m very excited and nervous. Lots of emotions. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved to build things and it’s something I’m planning on doing as a career.”

This summer, Hegwood has a job lined up with K and T Cabinetry in Polson. He said his favorite aspect of the process is finishing the final product, “because that’s what everybody is going to see. 

“Most people don’t see the steps it takes to get there, but they will see the finished project and finishing is pretty much the realization part of it. You’re just in here, by yourself, staining, polyurethaning and putting your finishing touches on it to make it look nice for the buyer. It’s a great feeling,” Hegwood said. 

Hegwood and Young are raising funds to help pay for the trip. An account has been established at the school and Young estimates they will have to raise around $2,500 for expenses like plane tickets, hotel, rental car and the conference entry fee. Those interested in donating to the cause can contact either young or the St. Ignatius High School secretary. 

“We’ve got a ways to go, but I think we’ll be able to do it,” Young said. “Any bit of donations and help people can give will be a great benefit.”

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