BRUNSWICK — Five school bus drivers drove up to Sugarloaf last week, and drove back with trophies.
They weren’t ski racing, but the competition was still tough, said Michelle Caron, the School Department’s assistant director of facilities and transportation.
Every year, the Maine Association of Pupil Transportation, the Maine Department of Education and the Maine State Police hold a student transportation safety conference at Sugarloaf.
The conference is a venue for educational workshops, but it’s also a place for bus drivers from around the state to engage in friendly “rodeo” competitions.
This year, five Brunswick drivers were among the best.
To compete at the state level, the five had to place in the top three in driving competitions at a regional conference, held in April.
On July 23 at Sugarloaf, drivers Rick Ryan and Leo Theberge competed in the driving skill competition, which includes weaving a bus between tennis balls without hitting them, and various traffic cone impediments.
“There are descending cones that get narrower and narrower as they drive through, and each cone is worth a certain number of points,” Caron said. “… As you knock them over (the fines) get pretty hefty.”
Ryan placed second in the competition, and Theberge third.
Later that day, drivers Cindie Thibeault and John Johnson teamed up to compete in the “special needs” competition, which included problem-solving events, evacuation techniques and proper loading and unloading.
In the competition, Caron said, other drivers play special-needs students, and the competitors are challenged to properly and safely evacuate them from the bus.
Before each competition, drivers must also check the bus for hidden problems, like fake bombs, she said.
Thibeault and Johnson prevailed with a first-place win, and will be heading to the national special-needs competition in Richmond, Virginia, in November.
Finally, driver Donna Dumas was honored with the Above and Beyond Award, which recognizes her as the Maine bus driver of the year.
“We’re very proud of our team,” Caron said.
Superintendent Paul Perzanoski echoed Caron’s pride.
“Each year that our drivers participate in the statewide competitions they finish at or near the top of their chosen event. This year is no exception, and we are extremely proud of their consistent high level of performance,” Perzanoski said.
The trophies are now on display at the School Department’s bus garage.
And depending on Thibeault and Johnson’s performance at nationals, there may be another on the way.
Award-winning Brunswick school bus drivers Rick Ryan, left, Leo Theberge, Assistant Director Michelle Caron, Drivers Donna Dumas, Cindie Thibeault, and John Johnson.