After coming in first in the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. regional welding competition last month, Cecil Folse did not know if he could make it to the National Craft Championships held on May 2 in Birmingham, Ala.
Although the 30-year-old Des Allemands resident has been taking welding classes at the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) campus in St. Rose for the past year, he has maintained his career as a crabber.
“I’ve been crabbing since I’ve been out of high school, since I was 16 or 17,” he said.
In order to get to Birmingham, Folse had to drive up by himself rather than ride the bus with his brother Trey Folse and recent Hahnville High School graduate Nathan Sutton–the three of them had won the top three spots in the regional welding championships only a few weeks prior–and drive back home immediately afterward.
“I’ve got my crab cages in the water. It was four days that I had to be over there. I don’t have anybody to tend to my traps,” he said. “It was kind of a last minute thing.”In fact, Cecil said he only went after he promised one of his instructors that he would attend.
“I gave them my word I was going to go, so when I give someone my word I try to stick to it,” he said.
In a whirlwind few days Folse, Trey Folse and Sutton went head-to-head against competitors from across the nation at the National Craft Championships. This year’s competition featured 156 competitors from 28 states competing for gold, silver and bronze medals in 13 competitions representing 11 crafts.
In the two-day competition, each welder took a two-hour written exam and then took part in a daylong practical performance test. At the end of the testing, the winners were announced with Folse coming in first place and winning the safety award while Sutton came in third place.
Although Trey Folse did not place in the top three spots, which were the only places announced, Folse said he believes his brother was near the top.
“I’d be willing to bet though just talking to the judges that he was probably in the top five for sure. Some of his welds actually came out better than mine. But it wasn’t just welding, they graded you on everything,” he said.
Folse thought that he would do well, but was not expecting to win first place.
“We are all friends and all, but we were competing against each other. Between the three of us I didn’t think we would take two of the metals, but between the three of us I figured we’d at least place once and we ended up taking home two of them,” he said.
The next day when the awards were announced, Folse was not even at the competition. He had to drive back home the night before, and by the time the awards were being handed out he was back on water pulling his crab traps from the depths of the bayou.
“I didn’t even find out until Friday evening that I had won,” he said.
Although he has taken a few calls from potential employers since winning the competition, Folse said he is going to continue through the next year of school before possibly taking a job as a welder.
On the other hand, Sutton said he has been waiting for the opportunity to work as a welder for past few years. The 19-year-old just graduated from Hahnville High School and is only one semester away from finishing his final welding coursework at ABC.
Following his performance in Birmingham, Sutton has received a number of opportunities to put his skills to work.
“I have received many job offers since then,” he said. “All local jobs, some with contractors in the chemical plants and the plants themselves. It was a really big eye opener for me. I knew there were going to be job opportunities, but I didn’t think they would come like they did.”
Sutton took up welding in his junior year in high school when he began taking courses from Hahnville vocational arts instructor Scott Villemarette.
“The first time I picked it up I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little nervous, more wondering if I would learn to pick up the trade,” he said. “(Villemarette) helped me with pretty much everything from the beginning. He helped build my career and pushed me forward from the beginning and told me to never give up and gave me a lot of motivation.”
Rather than thinking about going to college after graduation, Sutton decided to supplement his welding classes at Hahnville with ABC courses he took two nights a week.
After a year and half, he is only one semester away from mastering all of the welding courses offered at ABC.
Despite being on the cusp of embarking on a career, Sutton said he is going to continue with his education even after he chooses one of the employers who have offered him positions.
“I’ve completed three different levels and I am going for my fourth,” he said. “There is always more to learn and you don’t always know everything. You need to keep an open mind and keep on moving forward and progressing and try new and different things.”
Sutton said he is looking forward to beginning his career. “I plan on being a welder, hopefully nothing changes. I think it will be a fun opportunity and you can travel and get on a pipeline. I think that would be good experience,” he said.
For Folse, he is already preparing for next year’s competition to see if he can take home first place again.
“They already asked me if I am going to go next year,” he said. “More than likely I will go if I am able to go for the pipe welding competition.”
However, for now he is content in continuing crabbing with knowledge that if he needs to fall back on welding it is always there.
“Crabbing is doing good right now, but I am going to have that trade. I definitely plan on staying until graduation, it will take me another two semesters maybe three depending on how things go,” he said.