“We made it to states!” is not an uncommon phrase to hear broadcast in the halls of a school. Varsity football, jazz band, debate club, ski team — all competitive extracurriculars that culminate, over the year, in a champion. What about, school bus driving? Not necessarily something associated with a winner, right? Wrong! The competitive school bus driver circuit is called the International Bus Roadeo, and the 2016 California state champion was from the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District — 29-year-old Derek Bosserman.

To fully understand how Bosserman earned his state champion title, and the shiny three-foot-tall trophy in the lobby of the district’s transportation office, you first need to learn the depth to which school bus driving runs through his blood.

A Tahoe native, Bosserman grew up with a mom and stepdad who both worked for the school district’s transportation department. He was also a passenger on current transportation director Nanette Rondeau’s bus number 15.

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“I always wanted to be a school bus driver,” Bosserman said. “I grew up always sitting in the front of the bus.”

As serendipity would have it, when Bosserman was hired by TTUSD in 2007 at age 20 as the youngest driver in the district’s history, he began steering the 40-foot-long 1996 Blue Bird school bus number 15. “I’ve been on that bus for most of my life,” Bosserman said of the rig he drives for his 150-mile daily route.

But, more about the Roadeo!

“At the Roadeo, drivers compete against each other using their skills in precision driving. Each event is either timed or measured to determine the score,” states the California Association of School Transportation Officials website. “The events consist of an obstacle course which includes backing up, parallel parking, student loading/unloading, right and left hand turns, written exams on rules and regulations, and vehicle inspection.”

The circuit of precision driving obstacle courses can be broken up into four divisions, each more competitive than the last: chapter, northern, state, and international. Chapter and northern, as explained by Bosserman and Rondeau, are both relatively casual. “Anyone can enter these competitions,” Rondeau said. “They are used more as a training method for drivers.” Or, in Bosserman’s case, they are an opportunity to qualify for competition at the state and international levels. Bosserman’s first state level competition was in 2013.

The state and international levels are more challenging as drivers need to qualify for them. “Derek has always been competitive,” Rondeau said.

In the state competition, drivers from Southern California measure up against drivers from Northern California, with only one crowned champion winning that golden ticket to internationals — each state can only send one competitor. This year 37 people competed.

So, how does one go about preparing for such an event?

When he’s in season, Bosserman is known to practice seven days a week, for as many as four hours a day in addition to his eight-hour route. “Nanette [Rondeau] is nice enough to let me set up practice obstacles in the yard,” he said of the course he builds and positions among the TTUSD bus fleet.

“I have had the opportunity to watch Derek practice for the Roadeo at our Transportation Facility.” said Dr. Rob Leri, superintendent at TTUSD. “It is amazing what he can do with a giant bus on a small course, even when distracted by a surprise visit from the superintendent!”

All of this practice paid off. This year Bosserman beat out the reigning California champ, Doug Smith, and took home first place in the Public Sector Transit Style Bus division for states. In plain English, this means that in 2016 Bosserman is the best public school bus driver in California — quite the accolade.

His win in states earned Bosserman an invitation to the 46th School Bus Driver International Safety Competition, in High Point, N.C. at the Thomas Built Buses, Inc. headquarters that invites contestants from the U.S. and Canada.

“The bus I drove at internationals had 1.2 miles on the odometer,” Bosserman said. “It rolled out of the factory and into the competition.” This was a welcome change to the 1996 bus he usually drives.

Bosserman took fourth place out of 37 competitors. “I missed third by one point,” he said. The international competition was won by a driver from Bellingham, Wash.

School bus drivers often fly under the radar when it comes to school district employees being acknowledged for their important work, and while good, friendly competition is fun, it is so important to acknowledge the role these drivers play — they are the first and last people young community members see each day.

“Our TTUSD bus drivers truly make a positive difference in our kids’ day. When my daughter was younger, mornings were tough and she often ‘fell apart’ as we left the house, getting on the bus in tears.” said Kelli Twomey, a TTUSD parent. “I’d worry about her, assuming she was upset all day until I learned about how her bus driver immediately turned her day around so that each day, she arrived at school with a smile on her face!”

Twomey’s daughter’s bus driver was Louise Bosserman, Derek’s mom.

Author

  • Ally Gravina

    Ally Gravina is a freelance journalist and former Moonshine editor based in Graeagle. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in arts and culture reporting.

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