Sometime in June, 18-year-old Terry Gingell of Fairfax County's Thomas A. Edison High School will travel to Cincinnati for a national championship involving highly developed skills of form and precision.
He won't be hitting a ball or taking a written test filled with arcane questions designed for young geniuses. Instead, Gingell, the reigning Virginia welding champion, will be trying to form the perfect T-joint while torching hunks of aluminum and iron.
His competition will be the welding champions from the 49 other states; the prize is the national championship and a trip to Holland for the international "olympics" during the summer.
Gingell is one of three Edison students to place in the Virginia vocational educational championships and one of 14 regional winners from Edison, a school where 600 students daily participate in what seems to be one of the more sophisticated and comprehensive vocational education programs in the Washington area.
"With college so expensive now, more and more students are coming into our vocational programs," said Timothy Tierney, Edison's auto mechanics teacher and the adviser to the school's chapter of the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America. "In the 1960s, there really wasn't much of a demand for vocational education."
Beginning with a modest program in 1969, Edison's vocational program has expanded to the point where it now includes 18 shops in such specialties as air-conditioning, auto mechanics, cosmetology, bricklaying, plumbing, construction electricity and licensed practical nursing.
Hundreds of students from nearby high schools in Fairfax County spend part of each school day at Edison and the shops are opened nights and Saturdays for the benefit of adults and recent high school graduates.
"We start at 8 o'clock in the morning and we run till 10 at night," said Charles N. Hughes, the welding instructor at Edison. "Our goal is to take them to the point where they can qualify for a certificate."
By passing the American Welding Society tests that certify them as journeymen welders, students can qualify for welding jobs at $9.25 an hour. Many of the alumni of Hughes' classes are able to step into such positions immediately after graduation.
"I've got about a dozen students working on the (oil) pipeline up in Alaska. I've got quite a few down in Metro. I've got a number in research and development," said Hughes.
Gingell, the state champion, will take the welder's certification examinations later this month and after finishing the school year, he hopes to work full-time as a welder. Now in his third year in the welding program, Gingell graduated from Annandale High School last year. But he decided to take one year of post-graduate welding at Edison.
"I just got interested in welding. It's something I'd like to stick with," he said.
Gingell siad he won the state championship by welding different types of joints in different positions. The entries were then judged on their appearance.
In addition to producing a first place winner in welding, Edison also accounted for third place in the state with the welding of Robert Kennedy, 17, a second-year welding student.
"I'm just trying to do it for a job. I can make pretty good money at it, I think," Kennedy said.
Edison's other statewide winner was Jim Ours, 17, who took second place in the carpentry competition.
"We had to build two wall sections to confrom to a set of plans," Ours said. "It took about two hours." Upon graduation in June, Ours says he plans to find work as an apprentice carpenter, starting, he figures, at between $4 and $5 an hour.
Ours is one of several Edison students to have captured second place in carpentry in recent years, but so far the first prize has eluded the school.
"There's one teacher that dominates the state in carpentry," said Edison's carpentry instructor, Dennis King. "But I've got two or three kids coming along and I'm bound and determined to nail him one of these years."
While the majority of students enrolled in such training as welding, carpentry or plumbing are boys, girls are beginning to make small inroads. Three girls signed up for welding last fall, but their parents made them withdraw because they did not think it was an appropriate course for them to take. Tierney has had two recent female graduates of his auto mechanics class.
"One is working at a gas station now, and one is working for a new car dealer," he said.
As the national competition approaches, Tierney said, many Edison teachers and students will be voting for Gingell to add a second national title to the school's record.
"Two years ago, we took the national title in auto body repairs," he said. "It would be nice to get another."