Valley Unified bus drivers most skilled in Maine
FORT KENT, Maine — The top two most skilled school bus drivers in Maine transport children right here in the St. John Valley, according to the results of the Maine Association for Pupil Transportation 2019 Driving Skills Competition.
The Maine Association for Pupil Transportation promotes safe and efficient travel for school-age children to schools and school-related events, according to the non-profit group’s website.
Valley Unified bus drivers Ricky Labbe and Corey Morin placed first and second place, respectively, in the state competition, which saw around 30 of Maine’s top bus drivers go wheel to wheel as they competed in six categories.
The categories included tests of backing up around traffic cones, parallel parking, changing lanes, and a pre-trip check which required the drivers to assess for bus safety within five minutes, complete with planted dangers.
Labbe 55, of Fort Kent, who has been driving school buses in SAD 27 since 1983, took first place in the state competition. He said he was especially hopeful of bringing home the first place trophy ever since he took second place in the state competition in 2012.
“I still don’t believe I won; it’s been a goal of mine for a long time. My wife was with me. She’s my lucky charm. She keeps me calm,” Labbe said. “I feel like Dale Earnheart and I just won the Daytona 500 — the Daytona 500 of bus driving.”
Labbe and his wife Elaine have two adult children.
SAD 27 Director of Transportation Peter Saucier expressed his pride in Labbe’s success at the competition.
“It’s an honor to have a driver of Ricky’s caliber on our driving team,” Saucier said.
“Our school boards are very supportive of transportation. All the administrative staff are very supportive of transportation and making sure students are safe at all times,” Saucier added.
Morin, 37, drives for the Madawaska School District and took second place in the 2019 Driving Skills Competition.
Despite having taken first place at the regional competition against more than a dozen schools with more than 50 drivers that qualified him for the state competition, Morin said he did not expect to bring home a trophy from the state competition. Labbe took second place in the same regional competition.
“I was very surprised. I did not think I was gonna place to be honest with you,” Morin said. “I didn’t expect it.”
Morin, a father of five, along with his wife Keren Morin, said he enjoys working as a bus driver.
“I really enjoy the kids; I really do. It’s challenging but rewarding,” he said. “You become that consistency in their life. For some of them it’s not fun at home so you start the day with a smile to greet them and you leave them with a smile in the afternoon.”
Valley Unified Superintendent Ben Sirois said being a bus driver is more than about driving ability.
“For some kids a bus driver is the first friendly face they see during the day unfortunately and the last friendly face they see. We always remind our drivers of that and it’s huge,” he said.
Sirois said he is happy, yet not surprised that two Valley Unified drivers took the top spots in the state competition.
“We have some of the most talented and compassionate bus drivers in the St. John Valley, but this result from Mr. Labbe and Mr. Morin prove that we also have some of the most skilled drivers in the state of Maine,” he said. “We are extremely proud of their performance and how they represented Valley Unified.”
Despite his excitement about winning the bus driving competition, Labbe said he feels like a winner each summer when he makes his last run of the school year.
“I tell the kids when they get on my bus, ‘the number one thing is safety. I gotta make sure I get you to school safe and home safe.’ When the school year ends every year in June and everyone made it safe, that’s a trophy,” Labbe said.
With his first place win in the state of Maine, Labbe will move on to the National School Transportation Association school bus skills competition in July 2020 in Niagara Falls.