Kent bus driver not neutral about winning awards

Don Haney has been driving a long time. Haney, 60, guesses he first slid behind the wheel well before his 10th birthday, helping his father move tractors and trucks on their land in West Texas.

Don Haney

Don Haney

Don Haney has been driving a long time.

Haney, 60, guesses he first slid behind the wheel well before his 10th birthday, helping his father move tractors and trucks on their land in West Texas.

For the last 12 years, Haney has been plying his trade behind the wheel of a big, yellow bus on Route No. 43, serving Kentwood High School, Mattson Middle School and Sunrise Elementary in the Kent School District.

His students know him as “Mr. Don,” the soft-spoken, bearded driver who ferries them to school each morning, but this year, Haney has added another name his kids can call him:

State champion.

Earlier this year, Haney won the state “Road-eo” competition for school bus drivers and finished third in the international competition, hosted this year in Calgary, Canada.

It was Haney’s fourth trip to the international competition and his highest finish.

Featuring a series of challenges involving driving a bus and bus-driving procedures, as well as a written and oral exam of general bus-driving knowledge, the Road-eo is a competition sponsored by the National School Transportation Association.

Drivers are judged on 10 precision events, such on their ability to parallel park the bus, a challenge to go in head first and get as close to the curb as possible, a diminishing alley of ever-narrowing tennis balls the drivers must back into and the “student stop and load.”

“It’s not a spectator sport,” Haney said with a laugh.

Winners from each regional competition go to state-level contests and then onto the international finals.

Haney, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, said the competitions promote and reinforce road safety among bus drivers.

“Practicing for the contest makes you a better driver in the field,” he said.

For example, Haney described the “stop and load” procedure, a simulation of picking up student at a bus stop: check mirrors, put on amber flashers, stop, engage the brake, put the transmission in neutral, put on the red flashers, check traffic, open the door, and finally signal the kids to cross if necessary.

For the diminishing alley, it’s all mirror work.

“I just line up on one side and watch that side,” he said.

Though it is his first state championship and highest international finish, Haney has been competing for 11 years, finishing second in state three times.

At regions, his name is well known. Recently he overheard another driver jokingly say “We don’t care how well we do in regions, as long as we beat Don Haney.”

Haney said his natural-born love of driving is what gives him an edge.

“I’ve always loved driving,” he said. “Any excuse to get in and drive, especially when someone else is paying for the fuel.”

When not in the bus, Haney has a few other rides in which he can be found, including a blue 1965 Corvette convertible, which he has owned since high school.

“I’ve got lots more room in my bus,” he jokes.

But when he’s got children on the bus, Haney runs a tight ship.

“I’m sort of no nonsense on my bus,” he said, adding that when the kids are behaving, everybody is safer. However, he is quick with a smile and tries to learn the names of the dozens of kids he picks up every day and it is easy to see that his gentle nature helps keep the kids in line.

“I’m a mean bus driver,” he said, he face breaking into a broad smile.

Transportation director Don Walkup said Haney’s accomplishments are a great morale booster for his drivers, all of whom take “high level pride” in his victories.

“I don’t have to encourage him that much. He’s pretty much a self-motivator,” Walkup said. “He wants to win the whole shooting match.”

On top of his route, Haney said he practices several hours a week before the competitions start in the spring.

“Don is very thorough, very meticulous, and everything he does is for the safety of the kids,” walk said, adding, “He’s just an example of the high level of quality people that run through our department.”

Haney said he looks forward to competing again next year and plans to continue doing so for as long as he can.

So what advice does Haney offer to other drivers? Simple:

“It’s always check your mirrors, check your mirrors, check your mirrors,” he said.

Brian Beckley can be reached at 253-437-6012 or bbeckley@kentreporter.com


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