Bus drivers roundup fourth at national rodeo

April 6, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Alaine Tibbetts and Donna ‘Scooter’ Patterson negotiate the obstacle course during their prize-winning turn at the national Bus Driver Roadeo Competition. Contributed

Alaine Tibbetts and Donna ‘Scooter’ Patterson negotiate the obstacle course during their prize-winning turn at the national Bus Driver Roadeo Competition. Contributed

Fighting bitter cold and freezing temperatures in Indianapolis, a local pair of school bus drivers took fourth place at the national Special Needs School Bus Safety Competition in Indianapolis Feb. 28.

“We froze our butts off,” said driver Donna “Scooter” Patterson. “It was 15 to 19 degrees and there were little stupid snowflakes, and we had to drive in it.”

“It was fun,” said driver Alaine Tibbetts. “But it was awesomely cold.”The two women made the trek to represent Washington bus drivers in the national competition, better known as the Bus Driver Roadeo Competition.

Just two years ago, the two women were novices at bus competitions. They were intimidated, nervous and one of them had never driven a special-needs bus before.

But nearly 100 hours of practice time, testing and evaluations turned that around quickly. By the state competition last June, they were a team to beat. 

The two placed first, making history for Issaquah’s bus drivers. 

They spent the next eight months practicing to face their national competitors from states like Indiana, New York and Texas. 

Similar to the state competition, the two women had to take an online written test, which evaluated how they would handle certain emergency scenarios, how well they knew legal codes pertaining to transportation or student symptoms and diseases, and what procedures to use within the state.

After, they hit the practice obstacle, rehearsed emergency scenarios and pre- and post-trip evaluations of the bus’ condition with other colleagues.

The practice paid off, they said. Arriving in Indianapolis, the women were ready for the judges, who play the part of special-needs students on the bus and put the drivers through various emergency scenarios.

Judges can throw tennis shoes, or light matches on the bus — both of which have happened before — or anything else that comes to mind, Tibbetts said. 

But both Patterson and Tibbetts said those things didn’t happen this time. 

“It was a lot more laid back,” Patterson said, speculating that the weather made even the judges want to go inside. 

“The course was bigger, so there was a lot more room to maneuver things,” Tibbetts said.

They also didn’t have to worry about motion sensors, which in the Washington competition monitor how much the “students” are being jostled in the bus during the course.

The hardest part for the two women to adjust to was the differences between buses in Washington and those in the Midwest. 

They’re designed differently, Tibbetts said. For instance, the buses have a large air-conditioning unit mounted to the ceiling in the back of the school bus. 

“We had to ask what it was,” Patterson said. 

During the day, the women outperformed many of the other teams. 

“They work so well together and they know what the other is thinking,” said Laurie Mulvihill, Issaquah’s bus driver trainer. “They did a great job representing our district and our state, and we are proud of them no matter what.” 

“We did well in the student scenario and did OK in emergency management,” Tibbetts said. “But there was really no way to win that one.”

The scenario they were given was an actual emergency situation that had occurred in Florida, where a semi-truck ran into a parked bus on the highway shoulder.

Of course, there were some things they didn’t agree with the judges about, but they also admitted there were others they could have done better, Patterson said. 

“We could have done a little better in the pre-trip,” she added. “But overall, we felt good about the performance.” 

In the end, a team from Texas, with a transplanted New York driver won, the women said.

While the rodeo was fun, both women said seeing the sights, including a Civil War monument at the city’s center and the unveiling of this year’s pace car at the Indianapolis International Speedway, was amazing as well.

“We were proud to represent all the drivers here, and are so appreciative of the fundraising they did so we could eat and drink and see the sights and not worry about money,” Patterson said. 

The duo is far from finished. The state competition is just around the corner in June and they’re out for a repeat performance, so they can return to nationals next year in sunny Orlando, Fla. 

“We’re ready for some sun,” Patterson said. “And we’d like to beat the Texas team.”

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this article at www.issaquahpress.com

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