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Eastern Suffolk BOCES students win national automotive competition

Eastern Suffolk BOCES Automotive Technology students Casey Cotrone,

Eastern Suffolk BOCES Automotive Technology students Casey Cotrone, 17, and Ryan Lafata, 18, both seniors at Eastport-South Manor High School, came in first place at April's National Automotive Technology Competition in Manhattan. (April 25, 2013) Credit: Brittany Wait

Casey Cotrone and Ryan Lafata had been training since November for an automotive competition that would help them pay for college.

They trained for two hours after school, on weekends and over spring break.

And it all paid off.

Eastern Suffolk BOCES Automotive Technology students Cotrone, 17, and Lafata, 18, both seniors at Eastport-South Manor High School, were winners at the National Automotive Technology Competition earlier this month.

The duo was offered full scholarships to either the Lincoln Technical Institute, University of Northwestern Ohio or Universal Technical Institute. On top of that, they received $50,000 worth of Snap-on tools and gift certificates for further training.

Along with the other prizes, they won a new 2013 Toyota vehicle to be used for training purposes at Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ automotive program.

“Someday I’d like to work on race cars,” said Cotrone, of Manorville. “It was a great experience to be there and I couldn’t believe we won. And we learned so much.”

The competition, which the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association began in 1990, was held during the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City April 2-3.

Eddie Gazzillo, director of education at the association and co-organizer of the competition, said the contest is meant to prepare students to become qualified automotive technicians, and to raise vocational education standards in public schools.

“The competition is designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need to succeed in today’s industry,” Gazzillo said. “They’re more qualified to join the workforce now more than ever before.”

The duo were among 30 two-student teams from across the United States and Canada tested on their skills and automotive knowledge during a hands-on competition.

The first day of competition involved 10 workstations testing their technical skills on emissions control, engine performance and basic electrical knowledge, along with job-interviewing skills.

On the second day, they had to diagnose and repair internal automotive problems within a certain amount of time. Cotrone and Lafata worked on a 2013 Honda Fit smart car.

“Each team had a car to work on,” said Lafata, of Manorville. “We had three hours to locate problems, document them and repair them. It was tough, but we got through it.”

“Everyone was so serious and quiet, but we talked to keep ourselves calm,” Cotrone added. “I think that gave us an edge. There were teams rushing through fixes, but we took our time and made sure everything was perfect right up until the last minute.”

Their instructor, Michael O’Hara, the automotive instructor at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said his students handled the competition with professionalism.

“It was like waiting in the delivery room. I was so nervous,” O’Hara said. “But it was obvious they work well together. My philosophy is if you practice hard up until competition, it should be easier once you’re there,” said O’Hara, who has worked in the automotive industry for 30 years. “These guys really worked hard. They deserve this.”

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