State's top team built by brick, mortar

Members of the Chester County Career Center masonry team, from left, Eric Hooper, Rawls Shirley, Kevin Hall and Rafeal Camps, demonstrate the skills that helped them win a state title.
Members of the Chester County Career Center masonry team, from left, Eric Hooper, Rawls Shirley, Kevin Hall and Rafeal Camps, demonstrate the skills that helped them win a state title.

CHESTER -- Call them the "Fab Four."

Or try "Team Dynasty;" they like that.

This squad of student bricklayers doesn't have a name, but the group deserves one.

These mortar-stained teenagers from the Chester County Career Center swept top honors at the state masonry competition last weekend, taking first, second and third place and setting a state record by doing that.

Masonry contests challenge students to build a brick structure in a specific amount of time. They are judged on how closely they follow a design, the accuracy of their measurements and cleanliness, among other things.

The bricklaying contest is just one of the trade-related competitions students can enter. Cosmetology, welding and other fields also have challenges. Career center student Beth Proctor recently qualified for a national competition after winning a statewide marketing event.

These competitions can be fierce. On Saturday, about 60 students from masonry programs across the state brought their trowels to the state fairgrounds in Columbia. Last year, the highest a Chester County kid placed in masonry was 14th. No Chester student had finished first in the contest since the early 1980s.

That changed Saturday.

Senior Eric Hooper took third, junior Rawls Shirley grabbed second and another junior, Kevin Hall, snared the state championship, meaning he'll represent South Carolina at a national masonry competition in June.

The fourth member of the team, senior Rafeal Camps, also fared well, placing 11th.

But talk to these guys for five minutes, and they'll say who the winner is doesn't matter as long as the top trowel-turner comes from Chester.

"I'd rather lose to my teammate than somebody else," said 16-year-old Shirley.

All four bricklayers are in their third year of the masonry program. They'd placed in a few local competitions in the past, but this year, they've been unstoppable in both local and statewide contests.

Since November, they've won four plaques, 10 trophies, three medals and an award shaped like a golden brick.

"Dynasty," 17-year-old Hall said of the team.

All of the teens have relatives in the construction field. Camps has uncles who are masons. Hall's father and uncle are carpenters. Hooper's uncle owns a bricklaying business, and Shirley's stepfather owns a construction company.

These boys don't know about cushy work.

"I just like stepping back and looking at it," Hall said of his brick work. "You can say, 'I laid that.'"

The guys even have their own business, R&K Brick, with Hall, Shirley and Hooper building steps and flowerbeds on evenings and weekends, and Camps helping when he's not working.

Masonry holds a different meaning for each student. But for 18-year-old Camps, this has been his job choice since he took a tour of the career center in middle school.

"It's just all about that brick," he said. "When you see that brick, you know you've got money coming."

Money is something Camps said his family didn't have when he was growing up.

"I'm just tired of my family struggling," he said.

Like the other members of this hard-working quartet, Camps knows why he's been successful at his chosen field. The reason is a retired Marine and veteran mason named David Brown who taught them the trade.

"We think he needs a raise," Hall said. "Teacher of the year."

A no-nonsense guy who expects his students' best, Brown wasn't shocked by last weekend's results.

"I knew that they were going to win," he said. "They train for that."

But what they don't train for, what is completely and perfectly natural, is that intangible quality that defines this team.

These are two black kids and two white kids; two members of the golf team, a varsity basketball player and a guy who works part-time at Shoe Show. They're as different as their after-school activities, yet they're comfortable slinging mortar and relishing in their "dynasty."

But they still don't have a name.

"I guess you could call us a family," Shirley said.

"Brick family," Hooper added.