Mattituck High School seniors Kevin Herrera and Michael Rutoski have always enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together.
But it wasn’t until they joined Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ auto technology class last year that they realized the value of their skills and determination.
Competing as a team, the two won the Greater New York Automobile Dealership Association regional competition in January and, after finishing on top during the Feb. 15 state finals, they’re heading to next month’s National Automobile Dealership Association’s competition.
Regardless of how they do there, each has already won $100,000 in college scholarships.
“A lot of people said if I put the time and determination into what I wanted to do, I would accomplish it. I never believed them before now,” Mr. Herrera told the Mattituck-Cutchogue school board on March 15. He said when he joined Michael O’Hara’s auto technology class at Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Riverhead in September, he was the only one in the class with no automotive experience.
“When I first introduced myself to everyone else in the class, I said, ‘Hi, I’m a dental assistant,’ ” he said. “The year went by fast. I learned a lot. I never thought I was going to be chosen [for the competition] but we trained hard for a month and a half.”
“I always liked cars and liked to take things apart,” said Mr. Rutoski. “We trained hard after school, but we’d have been happy just placing.”
In both competitions, the two budding mechanics were assigned a car that had been “bugged” with problems. They each won a $40,000 scholarship after taking home the regional honors, and each won a $60,000 scholarships in the state championships, plus an Infiniti G35 for their class to work on.
At the state level, their challenge was to discover problems in a Mazda CX-7 SUV, which was bugged with numerous glitches, including a check engine light and issues that would keep it from passing inspection.
They will next test their skills in the national competition on April 10 and 11 at the Javits Center in New York City, where they will compete against 32 other teams from the U.S. and Canada.
“I’m very proud of these young men,” said their teacher, Mr. O’Hara. “They worked very hard to win this competition. Now it’s on to the national final.”