Issaquah bus driver qualifies for international ‘roadeo’

July 19, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Joe Lee maneuvers a school bus during the driving portion state roadeo. By Madeline Lee

Rookie Kelly Rupp started driving school buses this year, but the greenhorn has already earned himself a place at the international school bus “roadeo.”

Rupp placed second at the Washington Association for Pupil Transportation State Roadeo on June 26 in Yakima. His co-worker, Joe Lee, placed 16th out of 26 competing bus drivers.

Rupp began driving this year after seeing how much his children liked their bus drivers.

“I have a daughter who goes to Beaver Lake and a son who goes to Endeavour,” he said. “I was watching my kids get on the bus and I would see the impact the bus driver has on a child’s day.”

He started driving in November, and hit the books with his colleagues in February, studying for the Annual Puget Sound Regional Bus Roadeo Competition, held May 14.

Bus drivers and coaches Becky Flaherty and Kathy Garrison volunteered to prep them for the roadeo.

“The roadeo is really about safety,” Rupp said. “Our job is to get kids to and from school. The rodeo is about knowing your rules and regulations.”

In all, the district sent eight drivers to the regional competition — the drivers claiming the No. 1 spot in the team championship category and the top three slots in the rookie category.

At the regional competition, Rupp placed first, Lee placed second and the rest of their colleagues scored within the top 28 spots out of 68 drivers. After placing second at state, Rupp will travel to Baltimore, Md., July 16-17 with Mark Miller, the defending international champion, of Bellingham.

“For our driver to come in second in his very first state competition, it’s outstanding and I’m humbled that he’s worked so hard,” district Director of Transportation Jo Porter said.

The three-part test

At the state championship, Rupp and Lee completed three different challenges: a written test, a pre-trip examination and an obstacle-driving course.

The written test is a multiple choice and short-answer exam.

“They’re really wacky questions,” Lee said. “They’ll ask questions, like what kind of fire extinguishers do you have to have on a school bus and how far from a railroad track are you required to stop safely?”

The pre-trip is just like the daily check all drivers do before they leave the bus barn to pick up students. In addition, drivers have to know the inner workings of their bus, answering questions about the suspension system or the air supply system.

“You have to be able to explain those and describe those to see if they are in proper working order,” Rupp said.

Finally, drivers steel themselves for the driving test.

Each transit bus is 40 feet long, and the contestants have to parallel park it in a 46-foot spot and be no more than three inches away from the curb. Bus drivers have to weave their buses through marked tennis ball lines, and “if you even graze the tennis ball, points are deducted,” Rupp said. “It’s kind of nerve wracking. It takes a lot of concentration to go through without hitting anything.”

He got zero points for one exercise.

“I put my blinker on when I came into the event. When you turn a wheel it cancels your signal,” he said. “I didn’t catch it for 15 or 20 seconds, so I got zero points.”

Even so, “It’s all in good nature and fun,” he said.

About 15 Issaquah bus drivers came to state to see their friends compete, cheering for them the whole time.

Rupp had kind words for his co-worker, Lee.

“Joe is a great steward of the transportation community,” Rupp said. “He’s an excellent driver.”

Lee began driving after he moved to Issaquah to be closer to his grandchildren in 2007.

“I do the roadeo because it really makes me a better driver,” Lee said. “Everything that we learn translates into how safely we can operate the bus.”

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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