MADISON TOWNSHIP — Jersey Speelman has always had a knack for styling hair.
The soon-to-be graduate of Madison Comprehensive High School grew up braiding and styling her younger sister’s locks. Seeing her sibling's excitement motivated her to pursue a career in cosmetology.
“I would always curl her hair, cut her hair, style her hair,” Speelman said. “I just like making people happy."
Speelman is a senior at Madison and a student in the school’s career technical cosmetology program. She recently made program history by becoming the first cosmetology student to win a gold medal at the state SkillsUSA competition.
It was an exciting first for Laurie Dean, who’s wrapping up her 28th year as the program's instructor.
“I think I've had four or five go to state and probably two or three of them placed,” Dean said. "I don't think they always know how good they are until they go up against somebody. It's a confidence builder."
SkillsUSA is a non-profit education association focused on career technical education. Competitions provide students a chance to display their professional, personal and technical skills.
Speelman took first place in the Ohio SkillsUSA barbering competition in April. She is first Madison student to compete in the barbering event. SkillsUSA added the contest to its roster just three or four years ago, according to Dean.
Dean said they both screamed and jumped for joy when her name was called at an awards ceremony.
"She's got great barbering skills," Dean added. "She had natural abilities to use the clippers and it’s something she enjoys. She’s very talented.”
Speelman said she was surprised that she placed in the top three. She will head to Atlanta in June for the national SkillUSA competition.
“It’s a lot of pressure," Speelman said. "In my competition at state, there were only 16 of us. Now I'm going to be competing against almost 50 people. That's a lot more competition.”
To win the gold, Speelman had to demonstrate four separate skills — haircutting, hair styling, hair coloring and beard design and coloring. Contestants were evaluated on their ability to recreate a style from a photograph as well as their creativity during a freestyle portion.
Speelman began the competition with two mannequin heads, both with artificial beards and shoulder length hair. She was assigned two styles for the first mannequin. She started with an old-fashioned, slicked-back hairdo and side part. Then, she crafted a more modern, shorter flat-top haircut.
Speelman completed both the looks in under an hour. After that, she created her own style on the second mannequin.
“I practiced for a week and a half to figure out what I wanted to do," Speelman said.
For her beach-themed look, she dyed strands of blue hair and left them tousled like ocean waves. She topped it all off with a handlebar mustache.
SkillsUSA advisor Karen VonStein credited Speelman's success to her skill, talent and attention to detail.
She also praised Dean, who will retire at the end of the school year.
“(Dean) has done it long enough that she knows exactly what to look for, what the competitions are going to look like," VonStein said.
"She prepares these kids so well. Even taking their state board (exams), she makes it easy for them because she's so knowledgeable.”
Speelman said Dean is a good instructor because of her high standards.
“She’s a good teacher because she’s hard on us, which makes us better," she said. "She makes us work hard."
Speelman has gotten the chance to hone her craft through Madison's two-year cosmetology program, as well as practice at home. She's the de facto stylist for her two brothers, father and 10-year-old cousins.
Speelman said she prefers styling men's hair because there's more room for creativity.
"I think doing girls’ hair is boring. It's simple — one angled haircut all the time," she said. "When you do boys' haircut you can do whatever you want.”
Speelman will take the board exam to earn her cosmetologist license in the coming weeks. She plans to take a year off before attending college so she can earn a business degree and open her own salon.
She also hopes to become a barber, though that will require additional training. While there is some overlap between cosmetology and barbering, both require separate licenses and educational programs.
"She could go to barber school for half the time with a cosmetology license," Dean said. "Barbering is 1,800 hours and she could go for 1,000 hours. I have had past students do that.”