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WHHS student is among the best young cabinetmakers in America

Clay Beal works on a cabinet he made during a SkillsUSA state-level cabinetmaking competition earlier this year. Beal won first place in regional and state competitions before earning third place during the organization’s national championships in June.

Growing up in his dad’s automobile restoration business, Clay Beal learned to sweat the details.

The focus he acquired painting, wiring and manipulating sheet metal in the car shop along with Beal’s calm nature paid off this summer when he participated for the first time in a national cabinet building competition.

A rising senior at West Henderson High School, Beal, 17, earned third place in cabinetmaking during the SkillsUSA National Championships held in Atlanta last month at  the organization’s 58th annual leadership and skills conference.
Placing at nationals earned him $600 and some cabint-making tools.
His success at the national level came after Beal earned first place in both regional and state competitions earlier in the year.
Beal said he knew he had as good a chance as anyone going into the national competition. Placing third confirmed that he belonged with some of the best woodworking students in the country.
“It felt good to know I was one of the highest people in the nation,” he said.
High school and community college students from around the country competed in cabinetmaking, nursing, robotics, communications and more.

Beal competed in the “live-build” division of cabinetmaking. He and more than 30 other competitors were given the same plan, eight hours and a limited number of supplies to complete a cabinet. They were also required to share tools.
While many of his competitors buckled under the stress the rules induced and did not even finish their projects, Beal managed to excel.
“I don’t particularly get nervous easily,” Beal said. “I could tell a lot of people were nervous.”
Beal also credited his finish in the top three to his “ability to lay out stuff and do it in a logical order.”
Beal’s father, Bill Beal II, said the assignment to build a cabinet in eight hours was a difficult one for his son and the other students in the competition.
“When you see what they have to build in high school, I was like, ‘Are you serious?’” the elder Beal said. “It was pretty impressive.”
He said his son, Clay, and his other children all work in the family’s Willow Road car restoration business, Beal & Company.
Clay spends his time at the shop working with sheet metal and painting and wiring cars along with anything else that might be needed.
“He’s extremely gifted in a lot of areas,” his father said.
Beal joined SkillsUSA through West High after finding he enjoyed the woodworking classes he originally took only because he needed course credit.
“I was running out of classes,” he said. “But I enjoyed it once I started doing it.”
Keith Deese, West's woodworking teacher, said he suspected his star student learned the attention to detail needed for the cabinetmaking competition from his work in his dad’s business. Beal’s personality and his ability to prioritize and schedule his project was also a good fit for the competition.
“Clay is very detail oriented," Deese said. "He’s worked for his father for years. That’s a job where you have to be very detail oriented. He’s very calm. He just doesn’t get flustered. I’ve not had a kid quite like that before.”
Deese teaches several levels of cabinetmaking in the woodworking curriculum at West. SkillsUSA is an organization for students interested in furthering their interests in technical skills including woodworking and many others.
Students in SkillsUSA are also invited to take part in the yearly competitions sponsored by the organization.
Beal took two woodworking classes with Deese before competing this year.
“I encourage my higher-level students to join,” Deese said. “I ID’ed Clay as very good.”
Beal won first place at a regional competition in Salisbury and then first place at the state competition in Greensboro earlier this year before the national competition in Atlanta.
Deese said many students in the live-build competition with Beal did not complete their projects either because they ran out of materials or ran out of time.
Limited time and materials and sharing tools means students must work quickly, plan for long lines for tools and avoid mistakes.
“If you mess up and cut wrong, it’s going to affect your build,” the teacher said.
Students are also judged on what Deese called soft skills, including appearance, having a resume and sitting for an interview.
“It’s not just technical proficiency. It’s, ‘Are they well-rounded,’” he said.
Beal said he plans to compete again next year as a senior. The teacher thinks the student stands a good chance of winning again.
“He has the ability and has it in him,” Deese said.
SkillsUSA is a nonprofit partnership of education and industry founded in 1965 as Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) to strengthen the nation’s skilled workforce. Driven by employer demand, SkillsUSA helps students develop necessary personal and workplace skills along with technical skills grounded in academics.
The organization has hundreds of thousands of members nationwide in high schools, middle schools and colleges, covering more than 130 trade, technical and skilled service occupations, and is recognized by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor as integral to career and technical education.
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