by Jonathan Weaver
A trio of Kittanning teens is the best on the road, according to a recent Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) competition.
Kittanning High School Juniors Matt Grafton, Noelle Lemons and Mark Wasilko were the top team out of 10 schools during the Indiana-Armstrong Safe Driving Competition Wednesday at the main campus.
Grafton also won first-place overall at the competition. He was presented with a $1,000 scholarship prize.
“I didn’t know what to expect, really – we weren’t very informed. We just wanted to go and try it out,” Grafton said.
The Kittanning teen has had his junior drivers’ license since January and got his permit on his 16th birthday May 25, 2011. He earned his license on his first attempt.
Grafton said the team as a whole was surprised with the win.
However, Drivers’ Education Instructor Bud Stanley wasn’t surprised with the result. Stanley has taught all three students within the past year either behind-the-wheel or in class at Kittanning Senior High and said the trio including Grafton – who he described as a ‘level-headed guy’ – were both good drivers and good students.
“Whenever I select students for the driving competition, I choose students who do well academically and who I also feel are good drivers,” Stanley said. “I had (Grafton) in class and he did very well and he was also a very good driver.
“I’m real proud of all three of them,” Stanley added.
According to Indiana Regional Highway Safety Project Coordinator Bevi Powell, the competition consisted of three components: a behind-the-wheel skills test, a written exam to demonstrate safety and law proficiency and a perceptual driving component.
“Not only do they demonstrate their knowledge, but they learn while they’re it,” Powell said.
Wasilko said he personally learned from the perception challenge.
“I guess I’d say I’m not a bad driver – I’m certainly not the best out there – but it showed me how much even more I can pay attention,” Wasilko said.
Because of his driver confidence and faith from his parents, Wasilko might get to drive on the way to Boston for his uncle’s weather this summer.
Winners from each PennDOT district will compete in the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association’s “Pennsylvania Safe Driving Competition for Youth” to be held at Camp Hill, Pa. in May. The state winner will receive a $5,000 scholarship and a ticket to nationals.
Funding was provided through grants and local donations.
“It’s really a great way for them to put away some money for college,” Powell said
As well as each receiving medals, this year’s trophy will be on display at the high school.
Powell said Stanley should also get some credit after the victory.
“I think that Kittanning’s demonstration in winning the event really is a testament to Mr. Stanley’s teaching abilities, also. For them to place first out of 10 schools, it really shows that he’s a pretty good teacher,” Powell said.
Powell estimated students have competed annually for the award for a decade, but wasn’t sure since she joined the program at the beginning of 2012. She explained why she wanted to continue the competition.
“The driving competition was a fun event. There was a lot of participation and enthusiasm for it in the past, (so) I definitely wanted to continue it, Powell said.
“Kittanning did wonderfully,” she added.
Grafton has toured Waynesburg University and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown so far, but has not decided where he will attend.
The trio’s award was commended during a school morning announcement.