Kansas City proved to be a lucky city for K.C. Allen of Lee County Schools in eastern Alabama. The shop foreman competed at the America’s Best Training and Skills Competition held last fall during the NAPT Summit, and earned the title of America’s Best School Bus Inspector.
The self-described “small-town country boy,” who enjoys fishing, grilling and spending time with family, did not expect to win the competition.
“I didn’t feel like I was going to place very well. You’re talking about the top people in the United States that you’re up against. Some of them had competed numerous times,” Allen said.
Yet his experience and skills prevailed. Although he says he was surprised, those who have worked with him noted they were not at all shocked by the win.
“I was not surprised, for he is a very talented and self-driven individual,” said Lee Lindsay, transportation director at Lee County Schools. “He is a conscientious employee who cares about the needs and feelings of everyone. He works well with all employees and the public.”
Allen told STN his journey in automotive technology began when he was just 14 years old. He worked as a mechanic at a local shop for several years until a friend told him about a job opening at Lee County Schools and he joined the district in 1997. He has been shop foreman there for the past two years and prior to that, served as a bus inspector for seven years.
He noted he has stayed onboard for so many years because of how much he enjoys the job itself as well as his deep commitment to child safety — particularly because his own children rode Lee County buses.
“It gave me the ability to see about them, make sure the buses they were riding on were taken care of,” he said.
Allen recalls he first got involved in inspector competitions in 2013 at the suggestion of his transportation supervisor. He took third place in the Alabama state competition that year and first place the following year. First place made him eligible to compete in America’s Best.
“I didn’t expect to go to the national competition, and once I did, I’m like: Okay, this is pretty exciting,” he said with a laugh.
Although he was excited, he also says he felt apprehensive about many things going into the competition.
“I was nervous. I’d never been out of the southeast. I’m kind of a small-town country boy. Going that far away from my family for a week, I was nervous about that. I was nervous just to have competition, nervous about what kind of competition would be facing in opponents,” he said.
On top of the nerves, he also caught a respiratory virus in the days before competing.
But during the competition, Allen found his nerves eased due to the camaraderie between participants.
“You actually work with some of the guys. In doing that, you form a friendship. That kind of eased the pressure of ‘I’ve got to beat these guys,’” he explained. “It was more like, ‘we’re all in this together.”
Allen attended an awards dinner later that evening where winners of the competition were recognized. He remembers arriving a bit late, as he had taken a nap just before due to being ill.
He remembers sitting at a table and eating strawberry shortcake for dessert as they began to call the names of those who had placed in the inspector competition.
“I was just sitting there feeding my face. They announced third place, and I didn’t hear my name and thought that pretty much knocked me out of it,” he said.
After presenters gave the second place winner, Wayne Southard, his award, Allen recalls that Marshall Casey, co-founder and head of the event, said, “I guess it’s fitting that we’re in Kansas City,” as an introduction to the first place winner.
“I’m thinking somebody from Missouri had won first place,” he noted. “He said ‘KC, Kansas City,’ and the second he called my name, I about swallowed the strawberry shortcake whole! I was shocked to say the least.”
Brian Stovall of Limestone County Schools, also in Alabama, went on to win first place in the technician’s side of the competition.
“Alabama just had a good time,” Allen said.
Lee added, “I was very proud, for (Allen) was not feeling well that week.”
Allen stressed that he doesn’t feel his win would have been possible without the support of his colleagues at the local level, and others at the state level, particularly Greg Ray, school bus inspection program supervisor at the Alabama Department of Education.
He credits just doing what he was trained to do at work as his biggest preparation for the America’s Best Competition, particularly working to keep children safe on the bus.
“Being able to go to sleep at night and knowing you did what was right for the children, I think that’s what prepared me more than anything,” shared Allen.