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SkillsUSA history made: All-female high school refinishing winners

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SkillsUSA has announced the winners of its annual SkillsUSA National Championships, and all three high school winners in Automotive Refinishing Technology — for the first time — are female.

The career competition brings some of the most highly-skilled career and technical education students in high school and college from all across the U.S. to compete. Held last week in Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 6,100 participants competed in 110 trade, technical, and leadership fields.

Automotive Refinishing Technology Technical Committee Co-Chair Jessica Neri told Repairer Driven News history was made with three female winners. Winning gold was Lily Williams, of Arkansas followed by Aleah Sauder, of Illinois who brought home silver, and Madysen Smith, of Pennsylvania who earned bronze.

Automotive Refinishing Technology competitors are scored in:

    • An online professional development test and resume upload prior to the competition;
    • A written ASE test;
    • A mock interview with volunteer judges; and
    • Four 90-minute hands-on contests: spot repair, featheredge, prime and block, color tinting, and masking and color identification.

Williams told RDN she was in “complete and utter shock” when she won gold after placing 14th in nationals last year.

“I knew I had gotten quite a bit better just based off of being able to do more; I didn’t think that I had progressed that much,” she said.

Masking is what she improved the most on; from not being able to finish in time last year to finishing with time to spare this year.

“Just to go ahead and try it because you never know how well you’re going to do,” the recent high school graduate said. “You never know your abilities until you really put them to the test.”

Williams is going to pursue collision repair in post-secondary studies for a career in the industry.

Sauder said her favorite part of nationals was sharing the stage with two other female winners and celebrating with them.

“That was the first time three girls have been on that stage and it was incredible [and] empowering,” she said.

Smith told RDN she’s always been interested in the autobody industry, especially painting.

“I’ve always worked with my dad on cars since I was little,” she said. “I don’t even know where the passion started but when I was little I used to paint my little Matchbox cars so it’s kind of funny now that I’m painting real cars. Time flies. Freshman year was my first year in the industry and then this past year I got my first job at a body shop.”

The blending and color tinting portions of the championships were here favorite. Color tinting was a skill she just picked up a couple of months ago in preparation for the competition.

At the college level, Elias Domingo, of Georgia earned gold followed by Bryce Kunkel, of Colorado who earned silver, and Charles Moake, of Utah who finished with bronze.

This was the third year Domingo participated in SkillsUSA and he said he’s always had his sights on making it to nationals. He was a state runner-up last year in Collision Repair Technology.

“I like how they really want to emphasize if you’re able to know the hands-on stuff and also a lot of the theory that goes behind it; like a lot of textbook stuff to give you a couple of tests to see if you really know why you’re doing what you’re doing,” he said. “That’s really good in my opinion because you could be good at doing it hands-on but being able to understand why you’re doing it is really why the whole thing is important.”

In fact, this prepping and competing in SkillsUSA taught him a new skill — color tinting.

In the Collision Repair Technology segment of the championships at the high school level, Shane Webb, of Ohio took home gold, Lucas Lynch, of Iowa took home silver, and Cody Strong, of Illinois took home bronze. At the college level, Brandon Nelson, of South Dakota won gold, Seth Christmas, of Utah earned silver, and Winferd Vermillion, of Texas earned bronze.

Webb and Christmas both returned from wins last year to take home medals again this year. Webb earned silver last year and Christmas earned silver after being the 2022 high school champion in Collision Repair Technology. In 2021, Webb was state runner-up.

“My favorite part is the welding portion,” Webb said. “My family is a welding family. They’ve worked at tank plants and stuff like that before so I’ve always enjoyed welding. I’m pretty good at it, I believe. …I like the challenge of it.”

He added that his interest in the automotive sector came from his brother and sister encouraging him to take auto classes in high school like they had. Webb decided to go for it his freshman year and said he fell in love with collision repair.

“I didn’t really have any experience before I went into it until the class and then once I went into it for the career exploration, I loved it,” he said. “I mean, there wasn’t anything I didn’t like about it.”

Webb graduated earlier this year and is working in a former two-time SkillsUSA national champion’s home shop. He’ll attend a technical college for collision repair later this year.

Jason Bartanen, Collision Hub industry relations director and national SkillsUSA Collision Repair Technology Committee chair, said SkillsUSA had a great contest this year.

“The contestants were well prepared and their professionalism was some of the best I’ve experienced in my nearly 25 years of participating at the national conference,” he said. “Kudos to the instructors and SkillsUSA advisors for preparing their contestants.

“We have a group of dedicated volunteers and organizations that support this event and I am grateful for each of their contributions. We have an incredibly strong committee, made up of some of the best people in the industry. Without their support, last week doesn’t happen.”

Collision Repair Technology competitors are scored in:

    • An online professional development test and resume upload prior to the competition;
    • A written ASE test and a structural repair test;
    • A mock job interview with volunteer judges;
    • Four 90-minute hands-on contests: attachment methods, structural analysis, plastic repair, and sheet metal repair.

Bartanen said he hopes a medalist from one of the collision repair segments of the championships will go on to represent the U.S. at the 2024 WorldSkills competition in Lyon, France next September. However, funding is needed to train and send a competitor. Anyone that would like to support, donate, or sponsor a competitor can email Bartanen at

The winners in Collision Damage Appraisal were, at the high school level:

    • Gold – Joshua Mangum, of Texas;
    • Silver – Rhett Hylton, of Virginia; and
    • Caden Starr, of Kansas.

At the college level:

    • Gold – Lauren Lewis, of North Carolina;
    • Silver – Jesse Manuel, of Colorado; and
    • Bronze – Joseph Lytle, of Nebraska.

The entire awards show broadcast can be viewed here. Medalists and winners in each contest can be looked up here.


Featured image: (From left) Madysen Smith, Lily Williams, and Aleah Sauder. (Provided by Aleah Sauder)

(From left) Jessica Neri, Lily Williams, Aleah Sauder, and Madysen Smith. (Provided by Jessica Neri)

Lily Williams paints her Jeep in her high school shop class. (Provided by Lily Williams)

Instructor Aaron Dressler and Madysen Smith. (Provided by Madysen Smith)

Elias Domingo and his instructors. (Provided by Elias Domingo)

Aleah Sauder, Bryce Kunkel, Lily Williams, Elias Domingo, Madysen Smith, and Charles Moake. (Provided by Jessica Neri)

Lucas Lynch, Seth Christmas, Shane Webb, Winferd Vermillion, and Cody Strong. (Provided by Jason Bartanen)

A student welds during the SkillsUSA National Championships. (Provided by Jason Bartanen)

I-CAR conducts attachment methods orientation with SkillsUSA National students. (Provided by Jason Bartanen)

Shane Webb holds up a Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) “I am the future” T-shirt during the 2023 SkillsUSA National Championships in Atlanta, Georgia. (Provided by Jessica Neri)

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