"
The Front Line?" - 2013

By JOHN A. GILBERT
Professor and ASCE Student Chapter Faculty Advisor
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA-HUNTSVILLE

On May 16, 1971, a car with a trailer drove slowly through Kickapoo State Park.  Few of the picnickers even noticed it pass by; those who did saw nothing unusual in the ungainly looking object tied securely on back, and quickly turned back to their barbeques and Frisbees.  Little did they realize they had seen the world's first concrete canoe pass by (Young and Gilbert 2013). Shortly thereafter, Civil engineering students from Illinois and Purdue universities staged what is believed to be the world's first concrete canoe on the Inland Sea, a tiny lake in east-central Illinois (Hurd 1972).

A year later at Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis, 16 Midwest schools assembled for the Second Annual Concrete Canoe Race, as concrete canoe fever began to infect the country almost unnoticed. I fell victim to the disease in December 1976, when I paddled my first concrete canoe as a faculty member up at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After paddling boats there for ten years, I served as a faculty advisor to Team UAH for the next twenty-eight.  It's one of the things that I'll miss most now that I'm retired from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  But don't worry, I'm planning to stay actively involved with the competition and will continue to promote the sport.  So let's get down to business.

This year marks the 26th anniversary of the National Concrete Canoe Competition during which the races will take place on Homer lake, situated less than 20 miles from the Inland Sea.  The University of Illinois - Urbana, Champaign will participate in the competition as the 2013 host school. But unlike what happened in 1971 when Urbana faced off against a  single opponent this year Illinois will have to contend with 22 other competitors.

The 2013 U.S. contenders...

As of this June, 114 schools will have participated at the national level.  The first place overall winner in each of 18 Conferences was invited to compete in the 2013 National Concrete Canoe Competition. In addition, if the first place Conference winner finished in the top five overall in the 2012 National Competition (Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo, Universite Laval, Michigan Technological University, the University of Nevada, Reno, and the University of Florida), the second place team was also invited to compete at nationals.  

SLO, Michigan Tech, Reno, and Florida won their Conference Competitions in 2013 and Urbana decided to compete as the competition host, thereby establishing the field for the 2013 NCCC at 23.

2013 Statistics (see "For the Record")...

Referring to the chart below, this year's national qualifiers include 3 U.S. and 1 Canadian national champions.  These schools hold a combined total of seven U.S. and four Canadian national titles.

 

Altogether the qualifiers have made 141 prior appearances at the U.S. nationals. Clemson will set a new record in 2013 for the most national appearances at twenty.

The average placement for the field is slightly below 12.  Reno holds the record for the highest average placement at 3.71.

Hit rate...

For the record, I have a hit rate of  88% for selecting the top five (see chart below).  In my 2004 Coverage, I established a precedent of writing down every question posed by the judges to the teams during the oral presentations.  Simply click on the links to the schools listed in the order of placement.

I continued this practice in my 2005 Coverage, 2006 Coverage, 2007 Coverage, 2008 Coverage, 2009 Coverage, 2010 Coverage, and 2011 Coverage.   Last year (2012 Coverage), I couldn't make it to Nationals, since my daughter got married that weekend.  But teams that were fortunate enough to qualify in 2013 may just want to review this information form earlier competitions before venturing into their question and answer session.

My sister and brother-in-law are in town this week, so I won't be able to get up to Urbana.  However, if someone is up to the challenge, I'd love to post a list of the questions asked to the teams in Urbana. This means that you need to sit through every one of the presentations on Friday.  If you have that mindset, please contact me.  I'll give you the credit that you deserve when I post coverage of the 2013 NCCC following the competition... jag).

My top picks for 2013...

Traditionally, I make five selections for top five and choose three alternates; for a total of eight picks.  This year, I believe that Cal State (SLO) will be challenged most for their title by the University of Florida (Gators), University of Nevada-Reno (Wolf Pack), Michigan Tech (Tech), and Ecole de Technologie Superieure (ETS)Cal State - Pomona, Cal State at Sacramento, and Puerto Rico are strong top five contenders and may possibly end up winning this competition marking the second time that a second place qualifier won (Florida Tech placed second behind Team UAH in 1997 and went on to win the national title).

By all counts, SLO is the clear favorite.  SLO, Florida, Reno, Michigan Tech, and ETS should place first through fifth... but not necessarily in that order.  Chances are good that one of the other schools mentioned earlier will displace one of these schools in the top five.

Here's why... .with hyperlinks pointing to statistics, and logos pointing to web sites:

National commentary...

Let's begin with the national champions.

Cal State - San Luis Obispo is arguably the best in the game.  Last year, the team scored a "hat trick" by winning nationals for the third year in a row.

SLO has finished top five in their last seven national appearances.  They will be making their fourteenth national appearance and have an impressive average placement record of 6.15.

SLO has won the best product category for four years in a row.  During the history of the competition, their teams have won every category included in the current scoring system (design paper, product, presentation, and races)... except for the design report.  This is SLO's Achilles' heel.  But, up to this point, the team has masked this critical flaw well, proving time and time again that they can come from behind to take the top spot.


Cal Poly - SLO will field "Sentinel."

Last year, SLO came from behind in the design report category to take the other three categories (product, presentation, and races).  This year, I believe that they will do better coming into Urbana...

Top five... no problem.  2013 NCCC Champion... They will most likely win this one too.

Bottom line: SLO will be the focus of attention in Urbana.  They will need to stay focused to win.

The University of Florida is a formidable national contender with teams that have never finished lower than eighth in eight national appearances.  You'll notice that Florida always includes the string "gator" in the name of their entry... because the Gators are out to eat their competitors for lunch.

Florida had a very strong showing in the Southeast and will most likely improve going into Urbana.  Their team is very consistent, cool under pressure, and has a very good looking product.  

Florida knows what they have to do to win at the national level and they will pose a formidable challenge to the rest of the field.  The Gators will be making their ninth national appearance and have a 5.50 average placement recordTheir team will have a very large on-site contingent cheering them on. in Urbana.


Florida will field "Conquistagator."

The Southeast would love to see Florida finish top five to ease the pressure on the Conference next year.  My feeling is:

Top five... definitely.  2013 NCCC Champion... A distinct possibility.

Bottom Line: Florida is the Southeast representative and that says it all.

 

The University of Nevada, Reno is a very dangerous competitor, since the Wolf Pack poses a formidable threat in the design paper category.  They have been consistent in past stints, their teams have corrected mistakes made in the past, and they work well under pressure.

After making their debut in 2006, the Pack quickly improved their delivery and won the national title in 2008.  They have six top five wins to their credit and their teams have never placed below sixth in any of their national appearances.

With a phenomenal score of 3.71, Reno has the highest average placement record in competition history.  Significantly, the Pack has placed first in all of the major categories included in the current scoring system.

This team is backed by sound faculty support.  They have battle scars that come from wounds suffered as a result of taking risks and making mistakes during the heat of battle... making them a highly skilled and fearsome competitor.  Reno has turned their mishaps into valuable lessons learned and candid comments coupled with blatant honesty lay testament to this team's character.


The University or Nevada - Reno (Wolf Pack) will field "Dambitious."

You'll notice that the Pack has established the tradition of displaying their boat upside down.  In light of this team's prowess and remarkable past performances...

Top five... absolutely.  2013 NCCC Champion... Chances are excellent that Reno will earn their second title in Urbana.

Bottom line: The Wolf Pack will be shooting for the winners circle... and with their skill and some luck... will hit their mark.

.

Michigan Tech  is a veteran team that will be making their fourteenth national appearance.  The school has an average placement record of 9.23.  

Their teams have placed top five four times and they have placed in the top ten in their past nine appearances.  

They are very consistent in their delivery but have not yet demonstrated that they can win one of the major categories at the national level.

Tech's strengths are that they have veteran leadership and their team is diverse and filled with hardworking individuals who are actively involved in all aspects of the competition.  They have a very large contingent, sporting a roster of well over 30 students enrolled in nearly 10 different majors.  These attributes make them a very dangerous competitor. 


Michigan Tech will field "Mesektet."

MTU is a consistent player and my feeling is:

Top five... definitely.  2013 NCCC Champion... A good possibility.

Bottom Line: A consistent and seasoned competitor.  Definitely a threat for top five placement.

Ecole de Technologie Superieure has four Canadian National titles to their credit and they have finished top three in three of their last five U.S. appearances.  It is a pleasure to watch this spirited team in action.  They are fierce competitors that have their act together and know what it takes to win.

This year's appearance in Urbana will mark the team's eighth U.S. national appearance.  ETS's has an impressive average placement record of 7.43.  They recently hosted the Canadian Nationals where they finished second behind Sherbrooke who earned their third national victory.

Like Reno, this team has made mistakes and has the battle scars to prove it.  They are very good when it comes to making strategic decisions under pressure and have won the best product and best presentation categories at the national level during past stints.  The latter is quite an accomplishment considering that French is the native language in Quebec.


ETS will field "Savannah."

Considering that ETS is very consistent and has placed well in their last five outings, my thinking is:

Top five... a strong contender.  2013 NCCC Champion... Outside chance.

Bottom Line: A seasoned veteran and spirited competitor.  Definitely a threat for top five placement.

Cal Poly - Pomona has proven that they can score a top five win.  They have won the oral presentation category and have done quite well in the final product category.

Pomona will be making their seventh national appearance.  The school has a good average placement record of 8.17 and their teams have placed in the top ten in their last five appearances at the national level.

The team has the faculty support and forward momentum required to move into a top five position... and by placing them into a second tier, I may be underestimating their prowess.


Cal Poly - Pomona will field "Palomares."

Pomona is a rising star but my feeling is:

Top five... outside chance.  2013 NCCC Champion... Probably not this time.

Bottom Line: This team has what it takes to displace my top five picks and they just might do exactly that.

Cal State at Sacramento has not appeared at the national level for some time but I believe that this team may score big points in this competition.  They compete in one of the most competitive conferences in the county where Reno and Berkeley traditionally dominate.  This year it was different.

Big Sac has finished second twice at the national level and has an excellent average placement record of 7.00.

  
Big Sac will field "Imperium."

It remains to be seen what this team has in store for the competition but I think....

Top five... outside chance.  2013 NCCC Champion... A long shot.

Bottom Line: I have a gut feeling that this team may have a surprise in store for their competitors.

Making their debut...

The University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez will be making their debut so there are no national statistics to go by, but this team has what it takes to become a champion.  They have excellent faculty support and are one of the most spirited teams in the game. 

It is a pleasure to compete with this group and they work very hard to prepare for the competition.


Puerto Rico will field "Pyxis."

The fact that I'm picking a newcomer as a top five possibility should speak for itself.

Top five... could be.  2013 NCCC Champion... Probably not.

Bottom Line: These guys will be working very hard to place high in the competition and will be having fun doing it.

Veterans all...

I may be underestimating the prowess of the rest of the pack. In particular, it's only a matter of time before Clemson, a three time national champion, recovers from their slump.  As mentioned previously 3CT has appeared a record twenty times at the national level and they have finished top five twelve times prior to 2006.  The University of Washington the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Oklahoma have also finished top five in prior competitions.

The University of Evansville, Pittsburgh at Johnstown, University of Wisconsin - Platteville have placed top ten before.  

Other veteran schools that could rise to the top include Fairmont State, University of Massachusetts - LowellMississippi State, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ohio Northern, University of Texas - Tyler, Utah State University, and Youngstown State University.

Newcomer...

The only newcomer (no national statistics yet) is Puerto Rico and they bring the number of schools that will have participated at the national level to 114.  Once again, for those of you who keep up with the national statistics, I'm still looking for a spreadsheet from 1990 (held at Buffalo).  So if you happen to have one, please email it to me.  Thanks!

Good luck and may the best team win...

Team UAH and I wish all of you the very best of luck at this year's competition.

If you enjoy our coverage and want to help support the effort, please let me know.  We'll put your school to work and give you the exposure that you deserve.  By adding a link on your site to ConcreteCanoe.org, you and your school can help promote the competition to a continuously expanding  worldwide audience.  So please see our graphics and instructions for doing so.

As always, I'll be following up on my predictions below shortly after the competition is over.

Follow-Up...

Well the nationals are over for 2013 and I hated to miss them... but my sister and brother-in-law drove down to Huntsville from Easton to stay with me so that they could help their son and his fiancee's parents plan a wedding.  Their plans went slightly better than my pick rate which was only 80%.  Although I managed to predict the top four finishers, I underestimated Utah State.

ETS won the competition, making this the first time that an international competitor earned the U.S. title.  Going into Urbana, ETS had an impressive average placement record of 7.43 and had finished top three in three of their last five U.S. appearances.  This year's appearance in Urbana marked ETS's eighth U.S. national appearance.  They are the tenth school to win the U.S. title. 

The Canadians won the oral presentation, and the overall competition with a score of 64.0 points.  This was the lowest point total in competition history but not a bad score considering that there were only 85 points at stake (the sprint races were cancelled due to inclement weather).  Reno finished second followed by Florida, Cal Poly-SLO, and Utah State.

Historically, the only race to be cancelled that counted for points was the faculty race way back in 1995.  That was lucky for me, since Team UAH didn't make it to nationals that year.  For the record, I won that event in both 1994 and 1996 and it was never held previously or since.  Since I retired this year, I guess that I can claim to be the undisputed faculty champion.  Who would have guessed that!

Returning to the business at hand... the 2013 NCCC was one of the closest finishes in competition history... and the top five schools clearly outdistanced the rest of the pack... so much so, that the 15 points allotted to the sprints made no difference there.  As mentioned later, top five placement may have been a different story.  

As it was, after the technical events were completed ETS, UF, and Utah State were in a dead heat, each with 57.5 points.  At that point, Reno had 52.5 points and SLO, the defending champion, 47.5 points.

Reno went into Urbana with a slight advantage by winning the design paper but lost ground to ETS, Florida, and Utah State in the oral and product categories.  However, the Wolf Pack scored 9.0 points in the slalom/endurance races, bringing their total to 61.5 points, only 2.5 points shy of that earned by ETS.

Florida did not win any of the major categories but, as predicted, they were very consistent.  The Gators earned 3.0 points in the slalom/endurance races, bringing their total to 60.5 points, only 1.0 point behind Reno and 3.5 points shy of ETS.

Cal Poly-SLO fought valiantly to catch up in the water and won the races scoring 10 points.  This brought their point total to 57.5.  Lucky for them that they managed to win the best product category because Utah State ended up with the same total score; SLO won the tie breaker.

Apart from ETS winning, the big story in 2013 was that Utah State proved that they could face off against the big guns of concrete canoeing in the technical events.  Although State needs to do some work in the water (since they did not score any points there), Utah's top five placement was nothing short of miraculous.  

As mentioned earlier, running the sprint races would have made no difference regarding which schools finished in the top five.  However, had the sprint races been held... ETS, who scored 6.5 points in the water, may have been challenged by Reno for the national title.  Since SLO ended up only 3.0 points behind Florida, the Gators may have had trouble hanging onto their third place spot.  But anything could have happened during the sprints... and "could have," "would have", "should have"... don't count now.

So, congratulations to ETS... and all of the national competitors for qualifying and competing.  Thanks to Urbana for putting on the big show.  My hat goes off to everyone who made this unique event happen.  I hope to see you at nationals next year in Johnstown.  Next year, I'll be telling you how 38 years of involvement in this competition benefited me.  You just may be surprised at what you'll learn.

Even though the 2013 concrete canoe racing season is over in places like the U.S., Canada, Israel, Netherlands, and France, things are just ramping up in places like South America, South Africa, China, and Japan.  So please stay tuned to concretecanoe.org because I'll be reporting on these goings on there soon.