by Roger Walk
School bus drivers from across Chesterfield County showed off their driving skills in the annual “School Bus Road-e-o” competition. In this regional competition the participating drivers of students maneuver their yellow bus “rides” through a challenging obstacle course. These courses were set up for drivers of special needs buses at Safety Town, Krause Road, on April 30 and for drivers of conventional school busses at Chesterfield Fairgrounds on May 6-8.
The school bus rodeo is a “layered” event that challenges the training and skills of school bus drivers at the regional, State, and international level for more than 30 years. Under the critical eyes of rodeo judges, the drivers maneuver their 72-seat conventional or 78-seat transit busses through tight fitting barriers, narrow bends, and corners of parking spots and railroad crossing “obstacles” of the rodeo course.
All Public School bus drivers have to undergo extensive training before they can drive the students to and from their schools. As Kim Powell, full-time school bus driver trainer for Chesterfield County for five years explains, “driver candidates go to a training class for two months after they have applied for the job opportunity online and they have passed the background and physical checks.” After the classes and a minimum of 14 hours of individual training, passing several tests, obtaining a commercial driver’s license, they can start driving the yellow busses with students on board. With trainers like Mrs. Powell riding along with the new drivers for the first 10 hours of service, they develop the skills and experience to maneuver the bulky rides through the sometimes tricky and narrow streets of the neighborhoods they serve. These skills are put to a test when the drivers compete with other school bus drivers at the regional, State, or international rodeo.
Leslie Alderman, herself a trainer of County school bus drivers for years, had won the State Championship of the school bus rodeo four times in a row in recent years. This motivated her to help putting this year’s Chesterfield rodeo together with numerous other volunteers with school bus driving experience and excellence. And even with the challenges of the rodeo course, drivers like Mr. Richardson, who is driving the yellow bus in his second year in Chesterfield County, enjoy the competition as a fun event: “I like rodeos and have never been in one with a school bus as a ride.”
More than 30 drivers participated in this year’s event.