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Cordes brings home the gold

Mike Cordes works on a motorcycle during SkillsUSA national competition last week in Kansas City, Missouri.1 / 2
Mike Cordes (third from right), Red Wing High School graduate, won the gold medal in motorcycle service technology at the SkillsUSA national competition last week in Kansas City, Missouri.2 / 2

Mike Cordes, recent Red Wing High School graduate, won a full-ride scholarship to Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, thought about it, then turned it down.

Kansas City (Friday June 27)

Cordes sat in the second to last row in Kemper Arena in Kansas City – with a capacity of close to 20,000 – when his name was called as gold medalist for the national SkillsUSA competition in motorcycle service technology.

“I don’t think I touched a single stair on the way down there,” Cordes said of his trip to the podium to accept his award.

Red Wing Motor Sports (Tuesday July 1)

Cordes started working at Red Wing Motor Sports in May 2013, but his interest in mechanics started at an early age.

“My uncle has a farm out by Lake City and we would work on tractors over there, four-wheelers or whatever, so I’ve always had my hands in something,” Cordes said.

His father was an auto mechanic for a number of years and he took his first engine apart around 8 years old, he added.

Kansas City (Tuesday June 24 – Thursday June 26)

The events started for Cordes with an orientation session followed by nine hours of competition. Cordes said Wednesday consisted of eight different stations which he rotated through, with a judge watching his every move.

Thursday was only two hours of actual competition, but contained the majority of the points.

“I loved that part of the competition,” Cordes said. “Just to be able to tear into a bike and do something that was really useful and real was awesome.”

Plans for the future

Cordes said he is excited for fall when he begins his path toward a mechanical engineering degree at Milwaukee School of Engineering. The full-ride to MMI was intriguing, he said, but his interest in math and physics, along with the desire for a more traditional college experience led him to Milwaukee.

“I like to get my hands dirty, but I also like kind of the theoretical part of it, too,” Cordes said.

It wasn’t until he took a principles of engineering class with Doug Barlow, who works at Red Wing Motor Sports and was at the SkillsUSA competition, his freshman year at RWHS that he became interested in the paper and pencil side of mechanics.

“He kind of sparked my interest in engineering,” Cordes said of Barlow.


Barlow said SkillsUSA is a club, which is not funded by the district, and members usually get their money for the state competition by working the concession stand at basketball games.

When it came time for the trip to nationals, however, Barlow said the group needed to reach out to local businesses for support, such as Red Wing Shoe Co., Dovetail Construction, Red Wing Motor Sports, Joe’s Mobile, Reister Refrigeration, the Red Wing Freemasons and Norse Thunder Sound and Lighting DJ service.

“These people that see the value of hands-on education are really supportive of us,” Barlow said.

Cordes said competitions like SkillsUSA, which is in its 50th year, are important to foster career and technical education.

“It opens the world’s eyes, too, a little bit to how important technical education still is,” he said.

Cordes represented Minnesota in the motorcycle service category, having won the state competition at Alexandria Technical College earlier this year.

The scholarship to MMI was part of the package for winning the gold medal in the high school competition.

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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