Companies and organizations within the masonry industry joined forces earlier this year to support the 44th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference and the National Masonry Championships at its traditional Kansas City, Mo., home. The event featured 45 young masons from 35 states who competed in two divisions: post secondary/college and secondary/high school.

The contestants each took a written test and built a wall according to the design provided by placing block, brick, and mortar on a concrete block base. The three 2008 winners in each category are listed in the sidebar.

Tough challenge

Student interest in masonry vocational training and this competition continues to be strong, with 32 high school and 13 post secondary/college contestants. To qualify, the students had been winners, or designated second place finishers, of their own state contests.

The project for this year's contest was designed by Bryan Light of Brick SouthEast, a Brick Industry Association affiliate, who has served as chairman of the National Masonry Technical Committee since September 2003. The project was selected to test the skills needed for successful entry into the masonry profession.

“Each year I design a project that I feel will allow the ‘best of the best' to show how talented they are,” said Light. “This year's project was designed to have fewer actual units (brick and block), but tested the ability of the entrants to follow a unique design with a bit more difficulty. I'm happy with the results, and so were most of the instructors in attendance,” he explained.

Trade professionals from Bricklayers Local #15 and selected vocational instructors judged the projects by taking extensive measurements, measuring plumb at six locations, and evaluating the contestant's finishing techniques and the wall's overall appearance.

Strong industry support

Light was appreciative of the continuing support given to the competition by industry members. “Quality products, properly utilized, and a well-trained work-force contribute to excellence in finished brick and block projects,” he stressed. “In supporting a contest like this, we as an industry show our understanding of the importance of technical training.”

Through the efforts of The Brick Industry Association, Southeast Region, this year's contest was supported by the donation of brick from Cloud Ceramics, Concordia, Kan. The National Concrete Masonry Association coordinated the donation of block, while Spec Mix salesmen from around the country were “slinging” their mud.

Other members of the National Masonry Technical Committee and other sustaining members and sponsors of the contest included Bon Tool Co., EZ Grout Corp., Hanley Wood, LLC (publisher of MASONRY CONSTRUCTION magazine), La-Farge NA/US East Business Unit, Marshalltown Co., Mason Contractors Association of America, Masonry Institute of Tennessee, Portland Cement Association, and Wasco Inc.

Ancillary events

Other highlights of the annual conclave included a field trip to a local block plant arranged by NCMA representative Harry Junk. The tour was followed by a luncheon in honor of the contestants and their instructors.

At the luncheon, former contestant Chris Sutherland gave the keynote address titled, “My Journey as a Mason.” Sutherland told his story of winning 14 masonry contests (without a loss) as a student, culminating in his championship at the SkillsUSA National Masonry Championship in 2002. Just six years later, he was back speaking after completing his second year as masonry instructor of the Pinellas Technical Education Center, St. Petersburg, Fla.