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Michigan Teens 5th Place Finish in National Auto Skills Finals

DEARBORN, Mich., June 27 -- Justin Jedele and Ryan Szpara, 18-year-old seniors at Saline High School, finished in 5th place today competing against teams from the other 49 states in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition in Washington, D.C.

Their achievement earned the pair, both of whom live in Saline, $33,750 apiece in scholarships and a trophy for their school.

The team of Oliver Dalman and Matthew Whitaker from Vale High School in Oregon won the top prize in today's competition.

Teams from high schools in Hawaii, Wisconsin and New Hampshire took 2nd through 4th place respectively.

During four years at Saline High School, Jedele and Szpara have spent hundreds of hours studying automotive service manuals and working on countless, varied problems under the hoods of test cars.

The pair earned their shot at the national championship in April when they finished first in the Michigan state finals. That victory earned them $20,000 apiece in scholarship and equipment prizes as well as the trip to Washington.

The national competition involved two phases. Sunday, the 50 student teams took a 100-question written exam testing in detail their knowledge of all aspects of automotive repair and maintenance. That result counted for 40 percent of their final score in the competition.

Monday morning, the teams lined up facing a row of 2005 Ford Tauruses, each of which was identically bugged with an unknown number of electrical and mechanical malfunctions. When the official starter said "Gentleman, start your engines if you can," the 100 students raced to their assigned cars and tried to determine the causes of the car's problems. This hands-on work accounted for 60 percent of each team's championship score.

Ford Motor Co. and AAA sponsor the annual Student Auto Skills Competition as part of their ongoing effort to encourage talented youngsters to pursue careers as automotive technicians. Each year, the competition draws more than 6,000 high school students in the 50 states, and more than $5 million in scholarships and other prizes are awarded.

"Today's automotive students will be the technicians Americans will depend on in the years ahead to keep our vehicles running," said Robert Kaczor, AAA Michigan's assistant vice president, Automotive Services.

"The need for their skills is critical. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the nation is currently approximately 32,000 short of the number of skilled auto technicians we need, and that need is expected to grow as much as another 20 percent by the year 2012," Kaczor said.

"Ford Motor Co. and AAA are pleased to be able to work together to sponsor this Student Auto Skills Competition to inspire young people to help answer this critical need by considering an automotive career," Kaczor said.

The Student Auto Skills Competition was started in 1949. AAA has been a co-sponsor since 1984, and Ford Motor Co. became a co-sponsor 12 years ago.