The winner of the secondary division of the 2011 SkillsUSA National Masonry Contest recalled his experience at last year's competition. "I underestimated the competition, and I didn't do as well as I could have. I walked away with fourth place knowing I could have done better had I really perfected my project and put in 100% of my effort," says Jordon Zook of Mohnton, Penn. "This year, I did everything I possibly could to prepare for the competition. And God definitely rewarded the hard work and effort I put in to win."

Zook's masonry instructor at Berks Career & Technical Center in Oley, Penn., Mike Kern, says "We've have been wanting to have a winner here for a long time. I've been at Berks for 19 years, and I have to admit it's pretty sweet."

It was a team effort as both the student and teacher invested many extra hours in preparation for Zook's return to the national contest.

"All the work I did preparing for the contest came together and paid off forboth me and my instructor," says Zook. "Mr. Kern spent countless hourshelping, teaching, and critiquing me so I was as ready for the contest as I possibly could be. Going into the competition I knew I had the skills and practice I needed to construct a winning project. I just had to perform, like Mr. Kern told me." Zook humbly concluded, "Mr. Kern really deserved winning more than I did."

Of his student, Kern says, "Jordan was a great student. His skills were so advanced that he would complete tasks in just one or two days that should take a week. I had to constantly challenge him."

Kern recalled, "Jordan started at BCTC in the cabinet making shop. When he changed to masonry, his instructor was very disappointed. 'That young man was going to be my champion cabinet maker,' he said to me. That explains the kind of student Jordan was."

Kern continued, "Jordan started late but advanced quickly. He always paid attention to details and never failed to stay on task. I felt like he was starving to be challenged for more."

"During his first year in the program, I challenged him to compete against a state champion bricklayer in a shop competition. He held his own and learned from the experience," Kern says.

Zook credits others. "There's no way I could have done it on my own. Both my instructor and my dad invested a lot of time into making me what I am now, so I tip my hat to them," says Zook.

Zook's father operates his own masonry construction company, and Zook remembers going to a job site when he was five. He remembers admiring his father's brick and block work and thinking "how cool it would be" to be like his dad. In those days, Zook and his twin brother, Jeremy, would build "little castles" from left over pieces of brick and block and mud. Later, at home on the farm, Zook's father would organize his four sons to build whatever needed building!

Zook started working summers and days off from school doing cleanup work and laboring when he was 13. Gradually, his father starting teaching himtechnique. The first block he laid was underneath the porch of a cabin. Hisdad would let him lay brick and block wherever he had jobs where some of the work wasn't seen.

"I started laying regularly when I was in the 11th grade," says Zook. "Bythat time, I had two years of masonry votech under my belt. Dad trusted meand liked the work I did. Now, I lay pretty much all the time with my dad and my brother."

In spite of living on a farm, going to school, and laying brick and block for his father, Zook found time for extra curricular activities. He played ice hockey for his school team for nine years. And, for eleven years, Zook participated in the Central Pennsylvania Youth Rodeo Association, calf roping and team roping with is twin brother, Jeremy. And, as expected, he participated in his church youth group.

"Growing up on a farm around horses, I really enjoy roping and practicing and performing my best at rodeos," says Zook.

Asked if it was difficult to balance school and activities, Zook answered that it was not.

"I have my mom and dad mostly to thank for that," Zook says. "They never were pushy or looking over my shoulder when it came to my schoolwork. They just trusted that I'd do the right thing. They were more concerned that I have a good attitude, a good work ethic and work hard at things I enjoy. I always did well in school, but the desk work was definitely not something I really enjoyed. So, I mostly kept the schoolwork at school and my activities at home."

"Winning the national masonry contest was awesome," says Zook. It was a perfect ending to my high school career. I give all the credit to Mr. Kern and my dad for teaching me everything I know about masonry."

"After the competition was over, I walked away from my project knowing that what I did there was the best I could have possibly done. Honestly, it didn't matter to me if I won that day or not because I knew I'd done the very best I could do. That was the blessing in all this for me because the previous year I hadn't done the very best I could do."

Zook discounts the concept that winning the national contest can be a life-changing experience. "After all, it's just a competition," he says. Then he admits, "It was really cool to see how many people in my life cared, supported, and congratulated me when I returned home."

"It did give me a bit of a spring in my step just seeing that the hard work and time I spent preparing paid off. Yes, it boosted my confidence for sure, so I guess it did change my life in a way." Zook concluded, "I thank God for the opportunity I had just to compete and for giving me a healthy mind and body to work and use everyday.