Bus driver sets sights on international bus roadeo competition
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Bryson Nesbitt can parallel park a school bus in less than three minutes.
He can also maneuver within an inch of barriers on each side of the bus without touching them.
“It takes a lot of practice,” he said.
Those skills helped Nesbitt land second place in the local school bus roadeo before moving on to win fourth place in the district competition.
He claimed first place in the state competition in May, beating out at least 40 others school bus drivers.
Now, he’s got his eye on the international crown.
And the 23-year-old China Grove native has been heading out to the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s bus garage off Old Concord Road as much as possible to prepare for the competition, which will be held in Baltimore next Saturday and Sunday.
“I’m going to be practicing every day between now and next Saturday,” Nesbitt said.
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The annual school bus roadeo competition consists of two parts.
The written examination tests drivers’ knowledge of laws, rules and regulations regarding school bus operation.
The driving skills portion measures basic maneuvers such as driving in a straight line over a given width, backing up into a stall, executing a right turn without touching the curb and bringing the bus to a complete stop using mirrors to test the competitor’s depth perception.
“The reason for the bus roadeo is to enhance the driver’s safety skills when driving a school bus,” Nesbitt said. “These driving skills are a lot of the things we face on a day-to-day basis when we’re out on the road transporting students to and from school.”
Nesbitt said during his practice sessions he works on each maneuver multiple times.
“It’s pretty tricky, I’ve gotten very frustrated out there practicing,” he said.
He’s put in about 20 hours of volunteer prep time for each level of competition.
“Not only is it a way to sharpen my driving skills and knowledge, it’s also a way to master my skills as a school bus driver,” Nesbitt said.
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Nesbitt began driving buses for the Corriher-Lipe Middle and South Rowan High schools in 2008 while attending Catawba College.
He said he needed an extra job while finishing up school so he decided to look into becoming a school bus driver.
“I like working with kids and enjoy driving big equipment so I thought it would be a good fit,” he said. “It’s a pretty neat job.”
Nesbitt graduated from Catawba in December with a business adminstration degree, but plans to continue driving full-time until he finds a job in his field.
Driving a bus was also Nesbitt’s first brush with public schools. He attend Summerside School, a home school, before starting at Catawba.
“That was a new experience just to see how things worked,” he said.
He said he’s enjoyed getting to know the students.
“I like talking to them and giving them advice,” he said. “It feel like it’s a chance to give back to the community and help the kids of tomorrow.”
Nesbitt’s father, Eric, decided to follow in his son’s footsteps after becoming unemployed. He drives part time for the district, filling in primarily for southern Rowan schools.
“A lot of mornings we are going to the same schools so that’s been kind of nice,” Bryson Nesbitt said.
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Nesbitt said he’s looking forward to his final stop at internationals.
“It’s still hard to believe that I won state,” he said.
Nesbitt received a $500 cash prize for winning the state competition, but he’s hoping for something grander at internationals.
“I’m not sure what the prize is, but it would be nice if it was a new school bus for the district,” he said.
The international competition does not allow drivers to walk through the obstacle course beforehand like state, district and local.
“I won’t be able to see the course until I’m in the driver’s seat.”
But he said he’s ready for the challenge.
At this point, he says, driving a bus is almost as simple as driving a car.
“Obviously, it’s just bigger,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.