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Lenoir County Public Schools: About LCPS Elementary Schools La Grange Elementary driver rides away with Roadeo win

La Grange Elementary driver rides away with Roadeo win

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An LCPS bus driver with 22 years behind the wheel navigated a course of seven obstacles in a nearly flawless manner Friday to win the 2016 School Bus Roadeo.

Phyllis Swinson, a bus driver and teacher assistant at La Grange Elementary School for the past 18 years, picked up 687 points out of possible 700 to claim her first title in 10 tries. Three years ago she finished second.

This year’s runner-up was Bethany Bridwell of Northwest Elementary, just three points behind Swinson. Third place went to Mary Davis of Frink Middle School.

Swinson and Bridwell move on to the district competition in Fayetteville on Thursday. The top 10 finishers there qualify to compete in the state school bus roadeo in Raleigh on May 12.

“I love my job,” Swinson said as she watched fellow drivers try to knock her off the perch she ascended early in the competition. “I love driving a bus. I just love the challenge of it.”

She is a teacher assistant in a kindergarten class at La Grange. She started with the school system at Northwest Elementary and drove a bus there for three years.

Twenty-eight drivers from seven schools entered the roadeo, held in the parking lot at Grainger Stadium. The course challenged their skill in navigating turns, maneuvering, judging clearance, backing to turn around and stopping at a specific point. The buses they drove are 36-feet long and eight-feet wide and weigh 27,000 pounds; but “it really maneuvers a lot like a car,” said Wendy Waller, bus driver education specialist for Lenoir and Greene counties.

Waller judged a portion of the course designed “to see how well they can maneuver at an offset. They have to come in straight and leave straight but have to go through it at an angle,” she said. It’s the kind of driving skill necessary to get a big bus safely around an obstacle in the road.

“It’s not easy,” Waller said of the course. “Being able to do this and judging distance and clearance, being able to use your mirrors, it takes a lot more skill than people realize.”

LCPS employs about 138 school bus drivers and operates 132 buses each school day. Those buses transport about 6,500 students daily, about 75 percent of the district’s student population.

A photo album of the School Bus Roadeo is at