06-26-14: Bus drivers win second place at national 'Roadeo'
06-26-14: Bus drivers win second place at national 'Roadeo'
Posted on 06/18/2014

In their first time competing on a national level, two Puyallup School District bus drivers said they were shocked to hear their names announced as second-place winners in the National Special Needs Team Safety Roadeo championship.


Bus drivers Linda Kalmbach and Carolyn Wilhelm, both veteran drivers with nearly 60 years of school bus experience combined, competed in March in the national competition in Nashville, Tenn.


The two advanced to the national competition along with 20 other teams from 15 states nationwide. The Washington Association of Pupil Transportation paid for the Puyallup drivers' trip to the national competition.Image


Kalmbach and Wilhelm won the opportunity to compete nationally after taking first place in the Washington state Roadeo special needs bus driving competition last June. The pair also excelled in a regional safety competition.


Weeks after returning home this spring, Kalmbach and Wilhelm were still shaking their heads in disbelief at winning second place from among mostly experienced teams across the country. The Puyallup drivers' final score was just two points behind the winning team from Georgia.


"We thought we did well, but we had no idea we would be in the top three," Kalmbach said.


Wilhelm added, "We were shocked, especially since it was our first time at the national event. We went into it thinking we would be happy ending up somewhere in the middle."


The annual competition is designed to recognize and improve bus operators' driving skills. Winning teams received their awards during an evening banquet attended by more than 100 bus drivers and educators.


Puyallup School District Transportation Director Cathy McDaniel recognized Kalmbach and Wilhelm last month by presenting them with engraved plaques at the Transportation department office on South Hill.


"It is a great personal accomplishment for Carolyn and Linda and is reflective of the professionalism and dedication of all of our drivers," McDaniel said.


Similar to the state competition, drivers who compete at the national event participate in a variety of tests, including a multiple-choice written test, a comprehensive pre-trip vehicle check, and a driving course.


The pre-trip inspection assures that all items on the bus, ranging from tires and lights to wheelchair ramps and emergency equipment, are in working order.


In the competition's special needs category, the teams are also tested and timed on skills such as loading and securing a wheelchair, placing and securing a car seat, and driving a course that measures skills such as backing into a parking space with a narrow clearance, following protocol at railroad crossings, and responding to surprise emergency situations.


Wilhelm drove the bus during the national competition, while Kalmbach role-played the part of a paraeducator who helped manage student behavior and emergency situations. Adults played the part of four children on the bus with special needs.


The team had to respond to an emergency event after the four student riders, including one who is afraid of loud noises, became upset when a police car and fire truck with sirens blaring sped by the bus.


"The emergency event is the most difficult because you don't know what the situation will be and can't fully prepare for it," Kalmbach said.


During the school year, Wilhelm normally drives a school bus for special needs students while Kalmbach drives a full-sized school bus.

Both drivers said they are considering practicing and competing in the 2015 Roadeo competition.


"It was fun and a very good learning experience," Kalmbach said. "It definitely sharpens our skills."


Pictured from left, Carolyn Wilhelm, Linda Kalmbach, and Transportation Director Cathy McDaniel