Top Wrench Competition provides opportunities for area students

By Ken Lay

Area high school auto mechanics students convened in Powell to show their work and compete at the 33rd annual Top Wrench Competition Thursday at Crown College to display their technical skills.

The Top Wrench Competition, which began in 1991, gives students the chance to compete, earn scholarships and even find future employment in the automotive field.

The competition is open to the public and is judged by automotive instructors, including teachers from Tennessee College of Applied Technology.

“This gives these students the chance to compete and get recognized,” said Top Wrench Competition President Kenny Boatman. “I want businesses here. I want the parents here and I want the grandparents here.

“This is a football game on a Friday night.”

The competition began in 1991 and on Thursday, aspiring area auto mechanics students competed in the Top Wrench Competition for the 34th time. The entity is a 501-C non-profit organization, relying on donations and corporate sponsorships and volunteers.

“One year, we had two competitions because we transitioned from the fall to the spring,” Boatman said. “We don’t take any government money. We rely on donations and sponsorships.”

The Top Wrench Competition was the brainchild of an Air Force veteran, who was later tasked with eradicating drug use among teens, and the organization remains drug free.

“Joe Marshall started this to keep kids busy,” Boatman said.

Now, it’s grown and provides students the opportunity the chance to display their skills in a field needing young talent.

“This gives the kids the chance to find jobs and we’re at a critical time for skilled labor and we act like it’s no big deal,” Boatman said. “But it is a big deal.

“If something goes wrong with your car or in your house, you call and an old guy like me shows up. We need to bridge that gap.”

The competition was originally held at the Air Force National Guard Armory at McGhee-Tyson Airport, but government clearance was always hard to come by, so it was moved to Crown College and has been held there in recent years.

And that’s no accident.

“Crown College is the only program that doesn’t take any government money,” Boatman said.

Area high school teachers say that the competition is paying dividends for their students.

“This is a huge opportunity for our students,” Carter High School welding teacher Jess Sherrod said. “It’s an opportunity for these students to showcase their skills and talk with other teachers and get some constructive criticism.

“It’s a chance to compete and get recognized, and it is like a high school football game.”

TCAT Knoxville welding instructor Zeb Proctor, a judge at Thursday’s competition, said that the event benefits the students and noted that TCAT Knoxville also hosts a competition. The school also provided its mobile welding lab at Crown College last week.

“This and our TCAT welding marathon give these kids the chance to compete,” Proctor said.

In addition to the competition, the event also featured vintage cars, vendors and others in the automotive business.