TAMPA — These high school students are the high achievers who rarely, if ever, miss school. They are the problem solvers, the future engineers or doctors with the smarts to do anything.
But do they know how to open a car door?
Toyota of Tampa Bay wasn't planning on giving away two cars again this year.
More than 350 Hillsborough graduates participated in the fourth annual "Perfect Car for Perfect Attendance" giveaway at the Fletcher Avenue dealership. All qualified to win a 2014 Scion XB worth nearly $19,000 by having had perfect attendance in the first or second semester of the last school year.
Hillsborough school officials say the contest promotes better attendance among seniors, who are prone to miss classes as their high school careers close.
"You know that disease that hits everyone once in a while called senioritis," schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia told students.
The rules are simple enough.
Twelve car keys are put in a bowl. Only one will unlock and open the Scion's door. Up to 12 students selected randomly are called up one at a time to pick a key and try to open the door.
Open the door, win a car. Easy as pie, right?
But last year, a nervous senior put the key in the door and heard a click after she turned it. But she only halfheartedly pulled on the door, and it did not open.
Confused, she sat down thinking she had lost. But after all the keys had been tried without a winner, she realized she might have won after all.
The dealership immediately redid the contest. Another student won. Tears welled in the eyes of the girl who should have won the first time.
So Toyota of Tampa Bay decided to give her a car, too.
This year, general sales manager Farouk Hosein gave seniors what may have been their first lesson in the mechanics of opening a car door.
"Put the key in," Hosein said. "Turn the key, hold the handle. The door will open, okay?"
A person dubbed the "door monitor" would watch each attempted key turn closely.
The contest opened. The first nine students called picked their keys but did not budge the door.
Then Jose Sanchez-Flores, 19, a Plant City student from Strawberry Crest High School, took a key and inserted it into the Scion's lock.
He turned it. Click. The door opened. The car was his.
Sanchez-Flores, who moved to the United States from El Salvador in 2009, will attend Hillsborough Community College to become a nutritionist.
It's been two years since he last missed a day of school.
"I didn't have a car, and now I do," Sanchez-Flores said. "Everything is going to be perfect now."
William R. Levesque can be reached at (813) 226-3432.