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Spartan Hot Rod project revs up

Left to right, business owner John Jones and Superior High School seniors Brandon Mattson and Brandon Will fabricate parts for an off-road trailer as part of the 2016-17 Spartan Hot Rod project at Johnny’s Auto Body LLC in Superior. Submitted photo

The Spartan Hot Rod project has a proven track record. In the past five years, two dozen Superior High School students have used the mentoring club as a vehicle to complete their senior project. Every one of them has passed with high marks.

"I'm very impressed with it," said Rob Scott, senior project coordinator at the high school. "I hope to see it continue."

He said the mentorship that students receive is impressive. So is the time the teens put into dismantling, rebuilding, tweaking and designing vehicles — far more than the 18 hours the school requires for graduation.

Run by the non-profit Spartan Mentoring Club Inc., the Spartan Hot Rod project pairs students with area professionals. Together, they put new life into donated vehicles.

"I wanted the local tradespeople to be able to share their craft with students," said Superior Police Officer Brad Esler, who founded the annual build.

Mentors come from a pool of local, family-owned businesses willing to share their knowledge, time, space and artistry with the teens. Sponsors add financial support, materials and know-how.

The students get a look at some job options.

"It seems like a lot of students are not getting into shop classes and trades," said John Jones, owner of Johnny's Auto Body in Superior. "There's a big demand for them and they're good paying jobs."

In addition, mentors get to pass on what they know.

"It's kind of fun for me, too," Jones said. "I like to show people a new skill, something they may not know they could do."

The grassroots organization started with a single motorcycle project — a café racer — during the 2012-2013 school year. Initially, the Spartan Bike Build, it made the leap to four-wheeled vehicles two years later with a Ford Crown Victoria redesign.

"Moving to full vehicles means more work involved," Esler said.

Last year, the students rebuilt a Jeep Wrangler and Honda Trail 70. They also designed and created an off-road trailer for the Jeep from scratch.

Seniors of all skill levels have been involved.

"Some of them have never picked up a screwdriver before, some have more experience" Jones said.

All of them learn.

"Everyone comes in with a skill set," Esler said. "Everyone takes something away."

One of the biggest take-aways is in high demand.

"The No. 1 thing employers are looking for is people who work well on a team, get along with others," Esler said. "Whether or not the students do anything mechanically-related, they worked on a team, completed a large project, that's something they can talk about in job interviews."

Two projects are planned this school year. The first begins this month at Johnny's. It involves rust repair, body and suspension work, tires, paint and a possible wrap for a Chevy Silverado pickup that was donated by Enbridge.

"I believe it's going to be a pretty fun project," Jones said.

In January, students will begin adding performance upgrades to a new Ford Focus provided by Benna Ford at Len's Auto Body in Superior. Len Steltz and his crew have been mentoring students in the project since it began.

The Spartan Hot Rod program has mentors, tools, materials, vehicles and even coveralls ready to go. Now, it needs students to sign up.

"I think the interest is there," Esler said. "The time commitment can be daunting."

He estimated that seniors will put in 80 to 100 hours of work on the project, whichever they choose. Students interested in a senior project involving journalism, photography or marketing are also welcome to join the hot rod team.

Due to the small response the nonprofit has received this year, Esler said they are inviting seniors from other area schools to apply, as well as SHS juniors.

"It doesn't have to be a senior project," Scott said. "It can be extracurricular."

Students must be able to provide their own transportation to Superior two times a week for project work, however.

For more information, visit the Spartan Hot Rod Facebook page or call Scott at (715) 394-8720. An informational meeting for interested students begins at 6 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Superior Police station, 1316 N. 14th St. Use the side door by the squad cars on Hammond Avenue.

Whether or not SHS seniors choose to join the build team, the deadline to choose a senior project is looming. The projects are required for graduation.

Scott said about 65 percent of the seniors have filled out a project proposal and been approved. The rest have until Oct. 31 to do so.

"If you don't have an approved proposal, you don't have a project," Scott said.