Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 24, 2012

Behind the wheel

Bus driver lassos first place in state competition

PRINCETON —  It wasn’t your ordinary rodeo. There were no cowboys, no bucking bulls crashing through gates of an arena. Instead, Michael Bailey backed a bus into an alley, parked at a curb without touching and practiced stopping at a railroad crossing.

The Mercer County bus driver took home first place in the novice category and second place in the small conventional bus division at the West Virginia School Bus Safety Road-e-o on June 13 and 14. The road-e-o is a two-day event to test bus drivers abilities and skills.

“Most people think I am going to ride a horse,” Bailey said. “People understand later.”

Bailey has been a bus driver for five years. This was his first year participating in the road-e-o. His captain, K.D. Hill, got him interested in the annual event. Nine drivers practiced for two and a half months on the parking lot in Princeton. Hill and others set up a course for the drivers.

At the road-e-o, drivers compete in three divisions: Small conventional, large conventional and transit. Bailey choose to compete in the novice division with a  small conventional bus, also known as a Thomas.

He had to complete a pre-trip inspection and identify and solve potential problems. Then, he had to tackle obstacles such as railroad crossings, child pick up, parking challenges and much more.

“It is set up to improve our driving skills,” he said. “In the long run, it will make us better drivers and make the kids safe. That is our goal ... it teaches us to be in better control of the bus, especially in tight situations with cars and traffic.”

Bailey said he didn’t enter to win, all though he wanted to place at the event. According to Mercer County Transportation Director Fred Scott, no one from Mercer County has placed at the road-e-o in the last five years. This year’s event featured 70 competitors from around the state.

“It is a good opportunity for any driver to participate and test their skills to make them better operators,” Scott said.

The competition isn’t about bragging rights. It is really about safety. Bailey said he wanted to compete to be a better driver.

“I wanted to feel more confident that I could get my kids home safe. That is why we are in this — to get the kids home safe,” he added.

A former business owner, Bailey started driving a school bus when he enrolled in college. The job allowed him to attend classes during the day. He took several nursing classes before switching his major to education.

“I enjoyed the kids,” he said. “After I spent time with them on the bus, I wanted to go into teaching.”

Bailey runs a flex route for the Mercer County Board of Education. He drives students from Bluefield High School to the Mercer County Technical Education Center in Princeton. He makes several trips a day. Next year, he will switch to a conventional route, with morning and evening drives.

He will graduate from Concord University in two years and half more years, he said. He plans to teach biology. As a bus driver, Bailey, who is married to his wife Melinda, normally spends his summer break enjoying vacation and working on his home in the Lashmeet area of Mercer County.

“This summer, I am going to another bus road-e-o,” he said, laughing.

His win in Cross Lane qualified him to compete in the Southeastern Regional Road-e-o on June 25 and 26 and in the national contest on July 14 and July 15.

“I am going to go a couple of days and practice. I will probably spend a whole day just going through the course,” he said. “The bus we are using for this competition is the same bus I drive everyday. That might help me a bit.”

Scott said Bailey represented Mercer County well at the competition. He said the county is also known as the best dressed group at the event. Scott and others have shirts made every year. More than once, he said, other teams and spectators have commented on their matching shirts.

“It is kind of fun,” he said. “Each year, we pick a different shirt color and we have established our own logo.”

Scott’s wife Connie designed the logo, which depicts a school bus with horns and a driver sitting on top with a lasso.

For 37 years, the WV Association for Pupil Transportation has facilitated an annual bus road-e-o to promote in-service training and skill development. Mercer County’s participation is supported by D. K. Lambert of D. K. Enterprises; Tim Boggess of Richie Equipment; Craig Stout of Lawson Products; and Clyde Hartley of King’s Tire.

— Contact Jamie Parsell at jparsell@bdtonline.com.

 

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