Two MHS seniors headed to national finals in auto skills

Maui High School senior Mitchell Borge longed for his name to be on a championship banner in the school’s automotive department.

“Pretty much every time I sit in this room there is a lot of banners – like so many,” Borge said via cellphone from school Monday morning.

He told himself: “Oh man. I really want my name up there.”

His wish came true Saturday when he and fellow automotive student Lawrence Paet, 18, of Kahului won the 2013 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills State Competition on Oahu. The two seniors, along with their coach, Maui High teacher Shannon Rowe, will head to the national finals in Dearborn, Mich., in June.

The Borge-Paet success story continues Maui High’s long tradition of taking top spots in state competitions and then going to national competitions and placing in the top 10. Their coach, Rowe, was a state champion and was a second-place finisher at the national competition in 1996.

Lahainaluna High placed second, and Maui High’s other team placed third. King Kekaulike High also had two teams in the competition Saturday. The other team in the contest was from Aiea High School of Oahu.

The winners were determined by the combination of their score in an online qualifying exam and the team’s performance Saturday. Rowe said students had to fix an unexpected problem. In the hands-on competition, each team worked on a car that had been “bugged” with problems and worked to solve them in the quickest time.

This year, one of the problems was an issue with a transmission sensor. If the problem was not solved, the car would not start. Rowe said this particular issue was not solved by half of the six teams.

“They had to really think about it,” Rowe said, adding that “the level of difficulty was too much for high school.”

Still, Borge and Paet were able to fix the problem.

“I give them credit,” Rowe said of his students.

Borge said he was pleased with the outcome.

“We’ll take anything first or third,” he said.

Borge, 17, of Kahului called the experience “pretty nerve-wracking.”

“I been to (drag) races and football. This is the worse one,” he said of the competition, noting that for this one, there was the constant pressure of the clock ticking away.

“You are really under pressure,” he said.

At the national competition, Maui High will face student teams from all over the country and vie for the national title and $11 million in college scholarships and prizes.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at