Education

He paid $50,000 for Jordan High’s Mustang. But what he did next will surprise you.

The members of Team Red Jacket, the 10 students and three adults representing Jordan Vocational High School, continued the automotive program’s soaring success last week, when the 1996 Ford Mustang they restored and customized was sold for $50,000 at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Even better, the buyer donated the Mustang back to Jordan, so the program can benefit from this real-life lesson even more by having the car auctioned again.

Jordan gained entry into this auction by winning the 2016 Quaker State “Best in Class Challenge” in December, prevailing among five finalists and 55 semifinalists in the six-week competition.

Barrett-Jackson auctions are billed as the “World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions.” This one was last Thursday through Saturday at the South Florida Fairgrounds.

“There were thousands of people there,” said Jordan automotive program director Robert Harris.

Team Red Jacket was on stage Friday. As the car was being presented, Harris told the audience the story of Jordan’s journey, “how it went from really bad to really good,” he said. “I just told them how much these students gained from this whole process.”

The story seemed to have boosted the bidding, noted Jordan senior Breanna Price.

“He made those people in that room know how much he actually cares about us,” said Breanna, 17.

Barrett-Jackson vice president for marketing Megan Jones called the bidding for Team Red Jacket’s car an “incredible moment” for the 60,000 guests who saw 498 cars sold for a total of $20.5 million.

“We are so happy for the students involved,” Jones said in an email Tuesday to the Ledger-Enquirer. “I think the story definitely helped get the most money for the car.”

Jordan junior Joseph Craigen, 17, suggested another possible factor.

“It could have been that everybody knew the money from selling the car was going toward the vocational side of the school,” he said, “learning how to work on stuff.”

In fact, that’s the reason car collector John Staluppi was motivated to donate the car back to Jordan, Harris said he was told.

“Everybody just went crazy when we heard that,” Harris said.

Vocational education in high school helped shape Staluppi’s future, Harris said. “That was near and dear to his heart, because he saw how much value it had in his life.”

Staluppi, according to his online biography, “is a walking, talking embodiment of the American dream. Starting out as a gas station mechanic in Brooklyn, Staluppi built a billion-dollar business of car dealerships before turning his hand to creating some of the most iconic superyachts ever built.” He also established a vintage automobile museum, Cars of Dreams, which Team Red Jacket toured in North Palm Beach. Fla.

The bidding for Team Red Jacket’s car started at $10,000 and quickly quintupled, zooming past the auction’s $9,000 record for a student-restored car, Harris said he was told.

“We were excited and happy and emotional all at the same time,” Breanna said. “Most of us didn’t even think it would go past $18,000 or $20,000, but then it just kept going up.”

As the bids flowed, so did the tears.

“We all cried,” Breanna said.

“It was a big wow,” Harris said. “They were used to seeing more rich-type schools that had a lot of resources. For us to build this car and put this product out there, it was just mind-blowing for them.”

And the students credit the program’s director for lovingly pushing them to this prestigious point.

“Coach Harris believed in all of us,” Breana said. “He was our No. 1 supporter. Even if we were mad, he wanted us to get it done and do it right.”

Joseph added, “There’s more in this car than just us. If it wasn’t for Coach Harris, we probably never would have made it down there.”

The money will go toward upgrading the equipment and shop in the automotive program; any leftover money will help other areas of the school, Harris said.

The plan, Harris said, is to auction the car at the next Barrett-Jackson event, June 21-24, at the Mohegan Sun resort in Connecticut, where Team Red Jacket members might take another road trip.

Donors helped them to attend the auction in Florida, thanks to the roughly $7,000 in contributions, including $2,000 from the Columbus law firm Derrell Dowdell & Associates, $2,000 from Columbus Cottonmouths owner Wanda Amos and $1,000 from the Kirven Foundation of Columbus, Harris said, as well as the money collected while displaying the Mustang, first at the Valley Auction in Phenix City ($1,300) and then at Peachtree Mall in Columbus ($700).

“A lot of people downplay Jordan,” Joseph said, “but in the end, there were a lot that really backed us.”

Harris explained the importance of attending the auction — beyond having fun.

“By seeing all the things taking place there,” Harris said, “I’m sure they got some pretty deep seeds planted in them, seeing what you can do with your hands and the money you can make.”

Breanna and Joseph agreed, even if the result isn’t an automotive career. Breanna wants to become a surgeon, and Joseph wants to become a school counselor, but both figure this experience still will inform their future.

“It means I can be successful,” Breanna said.

Joseph said he’s committed to making a positive impact on students by paying forward the influence he received from his mentor. He gestured toward Harris and said, “I wish that every kid on Earth could meet this man.”

Team Red Jacket

Robert Harris is the director of Jordan Vocational High School’s 200-student automotive program. Local auto shop owner Mike Young of Safety 1st Collision is the professional consultant, allowed for each team. The 10 Jordan automotive students on Team Red Jacket are Austin Bedsole, Joseph Camacho, Fred Cofer, Joseph Craigen, Alejandro Gomez, Dante Lummus, Breanna Price, Jacob Van Erem, Jacob Wilton and Trennie West. The chaperon on the team’s trip to the Barrett-Jackson Auction in West Palm Beach, Fla., was Michelle Ogletree.

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