Walker Valley CSI team works ‘crime scene,’ takes silver medal

By Kaitlin Gebby
Posted 7/29/19

Three students at Walker Valley High School came home with a silver medal from the SkillsUSA National Competition in June, their second competition  as a team. The SkillsUSA Championships …

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Walker Valley CSI team works ‘crime scene,’ takes silver medal


Three students at Walker Valley High School came home with a silver medal from the SkillsUSA National Competition in June, their second competition  as a team. 

The SkillsUSA Championships is a national showcase of students’ career and technical skills, and it is the largest skills competition in the world, according to a press release . 

In June, more than 6,500 students competed in the national competition in Louisville in 103 hands-on events scored by a panel of judges. Recent Walker Valley graduates Chase Lawson, Virginia Willis and Claire Townshend competed together for the first time at the state SkillsUSA competition, and for the second time at nationals. 

Their criminal justice teacher Matt Parris said the results certainly surprised them. 

“They wanted to leave early,” he said. “They didn’t think they won anything.” 

Townshend operates as the crime scene photographer in the three-person team.

She said the state competition was “a piece of cake. We knew we had it in the bag,” but nationals were a different story when their camera started malfunctioning. 

“I was really discouraged,” she said. “I had to verbalize each and every photo I was taking because I had to create a photo log; but I had no way to take photos.” 

Lawson and Willis agreed  the camera put a damper on things, but they improvised and adjusted to finish their event and finish strong. 

The team had 30 minutes to gather evidence and process the scene and another 30 minutes to completely draw up the paperwork and proper documentation for the investigation.

Rather than being scored on solving the crime, judges scored CSI students on observation, oral interpretation, processing and packaging of evidence, as well as resume and uniform. 

Although it was only their second competition together, the team has practiced several times at Walker Valley with the help of Parris and his connections from his days as a detective. 

Parris worked in law enforcement at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years as a detective before becoming a teacher for Walker Valley. Now in his third year of teaching, this marked the first time he took a team to a SkillsUSA competition. 

Willis said Parris’ friends, Barry Tharp and Zech Pike from the BCSO, took time to observe some simulated crime scenes for the group and gave them pointers as they went.

Criminal Investigator Monica Datz also helped the students with equipment during their practice season, they said. 

So when judgment time came, they had no idea they would place second in the nation among 34 state champions in crime scene investigation. 

“I nearly fell.  Claire really did fall,” Lawson laughed. 

“I screamed so much my throat hurt,” Willis said. 

Only 45 points out of a possible 1,250 separated them from first place, Townshend said. Willis believed t if she hadn’t had camera trouble, it would have propelled them to first place. 

Although his students were shocked, Parris was not surprised by their high performance. 

“No matter where we were, I always felt like I had the sharpest kids in the room,” he said. 

Now graduates of Walker Valley, the trio plans on staying close to home while attending college.

Lawson is going to Lee University this fall to study political science, while Townshend and Willis are attending the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga to study business communication and medicine, respectively. 

Townshend addedthe criminal justice courses and SkillsUSA competition have given them valuable experience for college, too.

Willis said the hour-long event might help with “pressure under deadlines.” Townshend said they were complemented multiple times on their “attention to detail.”

Parris said he’s “not at all” disappointed  his prize-winning students aren’t pursuing careers in criminal justice. 

“Each of them entered my classroom with an interest in criminal justice, and courses like that are designed to help you decide whether or not that would be an appropriate career path for you,” he said. “I take pride in the fact that I was able to interest them in this field.” 

Parris concluded this would be the beginning of many future SkillsUSA competitions. He has already begun putting a team together for next year. 


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