Smith Voc grad’s skills are golden

  • Plumbing ace Dylan Fil in the shop at Smith Voc. CONTRIBUTED

  • Dylan Fil in the shop at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton.  COURTESY PHOTO

  • Dylan Fil in the shop at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton. COURTESY PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 7/12/2021 8:42:52 PM

When Dylan Fil was in eighth grade, he had a challenging time deciding whether to attend Hopkins Academy or Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. He didn’t know much about Smith Vocational except that his father and various other relatives had gone there years earlier.

After touring the school, and with his penchant for hands-on activities, Fil ultimately chose Smith Voc and its competitive plumbing program.

Now a recent graduate from Smith Voc, Fil won a gold medal in June for his plumbing expertise in the SkillsUSA championships at the district, state and national levels, and he also has a chance at competing on a global scale in WorldSkills.

SkillsUSA is a national organization that supports teachers, students, and industries involved in trade, technical and skilled careers. Its competitions spotlight the top trade students in the country.

“It’s basically the vocational Olympics for trade schools,” said Armand Lamour, one of Fil’s plumbing instructors.

Four students from Smith Vocational were sent to the district competition, which took place virtually this year. About 85 students were tasked with completing a paper test that included a resume and OSHA and trade knowledge portions. “We completely cleaned house and won,” Fil said. His classmates received bronze and silver, while he was the sole district recipient of gold.

Lamour described Fil as “one of those rare gem students,” someone who’s always asking the right questions.

Fil’s older sister, Felicia, said her brother is “willing to learn from anyone and everyone that will teach him.” She also said he’s the handyman around the house, and won’t hesitate to help out by fixing her car or even making breakfast for others before he leaves for work.

“He’s like the Bob the Builder of the house, essentially,” she said.

For the state competition, Fil travelled to Blackstone Valley and went head to head against 11 students from across Massachusetts.

Fil had four hours to put together a cast-iron project. To his surprise, he finished with a good amount of time left on the clock as others still worked on their projects around him.

“I felt good about my project, but I didn’t want to be overly confident about it,” Fil said. “I wasn’t like, oh, this is a complete runaway … But I was excited to see what I got.”

Fil not only received a gold medal, but he also earned a perfect score and was the only competitor to move on to the nationals.

Lamour has been the skills adviser at Smith Voc for almost seven years and said that this was the first time he or any of the instructors he spoke to has ever seen someone get a perfect score.

“Dylan is phenomenal,” Lamour remarked. “I tell everybody, ‘if I could have a class of Dylan Fils, it would make my job a ton easier.”’

Fil competed virtually at the nationals. During the three-plus hours of competition, he completed both a written test and a “very intensive hands-on” portion, according to Lamour.

Fil won nationals and was the only high school student to receive gold. He attributes much of his success to the plumbing program at Smith Vocational.

“Smith Voc as a whole is a wonderful school. ... And my plumbing teachers, Mr. Paterson, Mr. Lamour, Mr. Poplaski, they all prepared me as well,” he said.

To date, Smith Voc students have won four gold, one silver and two bronze medals at the national level.

Since the middle of his junior year, Fil took part in a co-op program, alternating weekly between attending classes and working for Express Plumbing, where he learned skills that contributed to his gold medal success.

Now, Fil may have the chance to go to France in 2024 and compete in WorldSkills, a competition for plumbing students worldwide.

Beyond his plumbing passion, Fil was also the captain of the soccer and baseball team for two years. Since graduating this spring, he continues to work for Express Plumbing as an apprentice plumber, and in the fall, plans on taking night classes to get him closer to his plumbing license. He said he plans to become a master plumber in the next three years. He also spends many evenings and weekends farming with his brother in Hadley, where they grow everything from Indian corn to cauliflower to snap peas.


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