The Front Line?" - 2006

Professor and ASCE Student Chapter Faculty Advisor

OK... here we go again.  My goal... to accurately predict the top five finishers in the 2006 National Concrete Canoe Competition.

Many of you know that I paddled my first concrete canoe 32 years ago at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and that I've been co-advising Team UAH for the past 21 years.  You'd think that by now, I had enough... but when you're hooked you're hooked!

Earlier this year, I was honored to write "A Brief History of Concrete Canoeing" for the inaugural issue of Concrete Canoe Magazine.  I should point out that that the first line in the introduction should have read, "One bright and sunny day back in May 1971, ..."  (as opposed to 1981).  I must have been sleeping when I proofread the article.  Also, in the interim period, the number of hits generated when the string "concrete canoe" is searched has substantially increased over the one million reported in my abstract.  Try it.

I was very impressed by the format and content of the magazine and wish Universite Laval the best of luck with their new venture.  This power packed team will be vying for a ninth Canadian National title May 5th through 7th in Sherbrooke and I very much appreciate their continued support of ConcretCanoe.org.  Laval will attempt to qualify for the U.S. NCCC next year... when they compete in the New England Region as a fully sanctioned ASCE international organization.

For the record...

In 2000, I predicted all of the top five schools and seven out of eight of my picks ended up in the top eight.

In 2001, my top five choices actually finished top five and nearly in the order specified.

In 2002, I targeted eight schools for the top five... and four of them actually made it.  In my 2002 commentary, I explained that I underestimated the capabilities of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, who placed fifth in the competition, simply because I thought that the Badgers would be overwhelmed while hosting it.

In 2003, I had no time to make predictions, since I was busy preparing coverage for ConcreteCanoe.org (2003 coverage).  But I did select the top five during my commentary there.

In 2004, I pegged four out of five of the top finishers.  My hat went off to MSOE (Milwaukee School of Engineering) for placing an impressive fifth.  I also covered the event for ConcreteCanoe.org and established the precedent of writing down every question posed by the judges to the teams during the academic presentations (2004 coverage).  I continued this practice in our 2005 Coverage... so you may want to review this material with your team members... if you were fortunate enough to qualify for this year's competition.  I'd look at the slate of judges too, if I were you!

In 2005, I limited my top picks to six schools and three of them finished in the order specified.  Not surprisingly, Michigan Tech finished third.  But I underestimated the prowess of West Point who finished fifth.

This year, I've decided to make it even more challenging by narrowing down the number of my picks to five.  What the heck... it's only for fun anyway.  Please remember that the opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of Team UAH, ASCE, ConcreteCanoe.org, and/or the sponsors of the 2006 NCCC.

OSU makes a smart move...

Oklahoma State University was beaten in the Mid-Continent region by the University of Oklahoma and the University of Missouri - Columbia.  But they've elected to play their trump card and will compete this year as the 2006 NCCC host...as opposed to playing it later to qualify for next year's national competition.  I consider this to be a very smart move because they performed decently in the races and won the final product at their regional (spreadsheet).  With a little work between now and nationals, the team should be able to improve their design report and oral presentation... putting them in a good position to do well in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State University has never won a national title... but they will be competing on home turf... and therefore pose a dangerous threat to the field.  Make no mistake, this is a veteran team that knows how to play the game... backed by a strong contingent of alumni that continuously contribute and support the competition.

This will be OSU's fourteenth national appearance and their teams have established one of the best average placement records in the game.

Note:  Our records show that OSU participated in 1990 but we are still in the process of establishing their placement.
I've been looking for that spreadsheet from Buffalo for over ten years now... so, if you have a copy... send it here.

OSU's '00 team won the design report category.  Even through this year's team will have to devote a great deal of person-power to hosting the competition... I'd still look for a strong showing from them... and a top ten finish..

A field of dreams...  

The players at this year's nationals hold 16 of 18 national titles... and the 2006 NCCC promises to be the most exciting competition on record.  The winner will have to work very hard... and with five of the seven past national champions in the field, small mistakes will prove very costly.  Just to make it into the top five, a school will have to execute close to a flawless delivery.

Wisconsin - Madison will be dreaming about their 4th consecutive win... but schools like UAH, Clemson, Berkeley, and Michigan Tech will do their best to give the Badgers a wake up call.  The defending champions will be sailing on some pretty rough seas as the wakes of their competitors churn on Boomer Lake.

Winners all...

Before I begin handicapping the competition, I should mention that every one of this year's national qualifiers is already a winner.  This competition amounts to selecting the best of the best... the veterans know that it takes a balanced effort and a cool head to take home the national title.

It remains to be seen which school will have the correct balance of composure, skill, and luck to win this year.  But, as I've said many times before... I believe that the key to victory lies in a team's ability to cope with human dynamics while working under constant pressure.

So, enough said... let's cut to the quick!

Top five picks in 2006...

Here's how I see it ... in reverse alphabetical order... with hyperlinks pointing to statistics, and logos pointing to web sites.

It seems fitting to begin with the reigning national champion from the University of Wisconsin - Madison.  The Badgers are one of four teams (Team UAH, the Berkeley Bears, and Clemson's 3CT are the other three) that have won this competition more than once.  All four schools have won back-to-back titles; Berkeley is the only one to have accomplished this feat twice.  But the Badgers are the only team in history to have won three consecutive titles.  This year, they could make it four in a row.

Host of the design report page for ConcreteCanoe.org, the Badgers are a veteran team that will be making their twelfth appearance at the national level.  They scored a perfect 100/100 at the regional level and will be very hard to beat.  Although the team carries momentum going into the competition, they will be under media scrutiny... and immense pressure from fellow competitors bound and determined to end their winning streak.

Last year the Badgers led going into the competition after winning the design report category... and that's exactly what they need to do this year if they expect to sail on to victory in calm seas.  But schools like Berkeley and UAH are also in contention here.  No doubt, there will be a fierce battle between these past champions in the design report category... well before the national contingent even sets foot on Oklahoma soil.  

The Badgers named their canoe "Forward" after their state motto. Wisconsin is well known for being a progressive forward thinking state and their project embodied that motto this year...  from transparency of leadership, to sustainable material choices, to a very exciting new mold/pre-stress method.

Top five... no doubt.  2006 NCCC Champion... the favorite... this team won't place much lower than second or third unless they make a mistake or get a bad break.

Michigan Tech has never won the national title... but last year's stellar performance showed that this team has what it takes to be a serious competitor.  Tech will be making its eighth appearance at the national level and a review of their statistics (below) shows progressive improvement.  Although they are a viable candidate for the title, Tech has never won a major category at the national level... and they'll be hard pressed to win the national title this year if this trend continues.  But they have a very consistent delivery and good team spirit... making them a strong top five contender.  Tech's boat is called "Keweenaw Miner."

Top five... likely.  2006 NCCC Champion... doubtful unless the big guns split points in various scoring categories and Tech takes top honors in one category... more likely to end up fourth or fifth... but this team poses a definite threat to the field because the likelihood is that they will score big points.

Clemson keeps the spreadsheets for the national concrete competitions on behalf of ConcreteCanoe.org and has the second highest average placement record of all schools involved in the competition.  3CT has three NCCC titles to their credit and they have been the regional representative from the Carolina's Conference for the past fourteen years - the longest consecutive regional winning streak in NCCC history.

3CT has fielded the strongest paddling teams in recent years and this team has the experience, teamwork, technical delivery, and faculty support that it takes to win.  Clemson had some trouble with their presentation last year and still managed to finish second... but I'd bet my bottom dollar that they won't be making many mistakes in that regard this year.  No doubt, they'll be coming on strong with "Take It For Granite."

Top five... no problem.  2006 NCCC Champion... likely... if 3CT doesn't run into any glitches, you'll definitely find them in the top three.

The University of California - Berkeley is a veteran team that has four national titles to their credit.  This will be the Bears fifteenth appearance at nationals... the all time NCCC record!

Finishing only once out of the top ten, Berkeley's four national wins (1988, 1989, 1991, 1992) and seven other top three finishes (1990, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, and 2005) give them the third highest average placement record in NCCC history.

True to form, Berkeley will rely on their technical expertise and presentation skills to get ahead of the pack early in the game.  And, with improved paddling skills, the Bears could capture a fifth national title with their boat, "Caliente."

Top five... probably.  2006 NCCC Champion... perhaps... more likely to place third or fourth... unless the Bears come on strong in the water... and they just might.

Team UAH will make their fourteenth appearance at the national level... and with a staggering 2.92, they have the highest average placement record in the game.  The host of ConcreteCanoe.org, Team UAH had a very strong showing against nineteen other schools in the Southeast where they won by the highest score and largest margin in recent history.  Their claim: "We've got it covered!" ... and they do with their boat called, "Full Spectrum."

Team UAH has never placed lower than 7th at nationals and with five national titles to their credit, they have the experience and knowledge that it takes to win.  This year's dynamically tuned hull was part of an advanced technology demonstration conducted for the Department of Defense and, prior to organization, team members were profiled and went through a corporate training program.

The team made major changes in their hull design... and worked with Peter Mitchell to produce custom paddles for the competition.  They'll need every edge that they can get because UAH did not qualify for nationals last year... and, based on last year's times, the team's paddling skills are lacking compared to those of 3CT and the Badgers.  So, to win, Team UAH must forge ahead early in the game... and then do their very best to hold their own against the big guns in the water.

Top five... absolutely!  2006 NCCC Champion... my personal favorite... relatively inexperienced but one of the strongest and most enthusiastic teams that I've ever coached.

Apples to apples...

A side by side comparison of these five schools shows that Wisconsin and Michigan Tech have been on an upward spiral at the national level while UAH, Berkeley, and Clemson have been very consistent and pretty much at the top of the game from the get go.  The five schools have made a combined total of 58 prior national appearances.

Average placement records are as follows: UAH (2.92 based on 13 national appearances); Clemson (3.77 based on 13 appearances); Berkeley (4.14 based on 14 appearances); Wisconsin (8.00 based on 11 appearances), and Michigan Tech (12.00 based on 7 appearances).

As far as competition statistics are concerned, UAH has five national titles ('93,'94,'96,'98,'01), Berkeley four ('88, '89, '91,'92), and Clemson and Wisconsin three (Clemson in '99, '00, '02 and Wisconsin in '03, '04, '05).  Berkeley placed first in the design report category a staggering six times ('89, '91, '92, '93, '02, '03) whereas Team UAH has won three times ('94,'99,'01,'04); and, Wisconsin once ('05).  Team UAH won the oral presentation category four times ('91,'93','94,'96) while Wisconsin and Clemson won this category twice (Badgers in '00,'03 and 3CT in '99,'02).  The three schools to win the best product are Team UAH ('93,'94,'98,'99), Berkeley ('88, '89), and Clemson ('00,'05).

Although the items on the tabletop display are simply checked off on the judges score sheet, the display itself may influence the judges... because the cross section displayed in the general vicinity is evaluated for points.  When a display was part of the competition, Team UAH and 3CT won this category three times each (UAH in '91, '94, '98 and Clemson in '99,'00,'01). 

As far as overall design points are concerned, Team UAH and Berkeley placed first in this category four times (Team UAH in '94,'94,'98,'01 and the Bears in '88, '89, '91, '92); Wisconsin three times ('03,'04,'05); and, Clemson twice ('99,'00).  In the water, Clemson scored the most race points a whopping seven times ('98,'00,'01,'02,'03,'04); whereas, Team UAH has won five times ('93,'94,'96,'97,'99); and, Berkeley three times ('89, '91, '92).

Even though the statistics and year-to-year performances of these five schools may vary, they currently represent the power players of the NCCC... and this competition will be absolutely amazing!  One thing is certain...if your team acquires the combined talents and attributes displayed by these organizations... you'll be a winner... hands down!

Watch out for these guys...

Good handicappers need to hedge their bets, so I'm going to highlight two more schools that could take top honors.  But this is the tough part... because there are so many other good teams that could finish high...if the chips fall their way.

Provided that no school dominates, all a team really needs to do is to have a consistent delivery.  With an even split between the major contenders... all it could take to get to the winner's circle would be a win in just one category.

We haven't seen the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at nationals since '02 but this team knows what it takes to win.  They were among "The Fortunate Fifteen" in '88 and worked their way up from tenth place to a national title in '95.

Once Tech qualifies for nationals, they consistently place high in the field... and their teams have won various scoring categories: most design points ('96), most race points ('95), best design paper ('96), and best product ('95, '97, '02).  South Dakota may be a bit rusty... but this team has the ability to win... and may end up at the top of the heap.

Western Kentucky finished in the lower tier for the past two years... after running into problems with their product.  But they have done much better than that in the past and probably won't be making any mistakes as far as their product goes this year.  In fact, their boat looks pretty sharp (see below) and WKU could take top honors in the product category... making me think that this team has a good chance of placing well overall.  I've been tracking their progress this year... WKU is determined to win and nothing has kept their team from practicing.  I recall reading somewhere that they practiced inside a cave during the winter!

WKU's "Topper Chopper" looked pretty slick at the regional level.

At any rate, this will be WKU's eleventh national appearance.  They scored the most design points in '02, built the best display in '02, and had the best product in '03.

WKU's biggest asset lies in the team's faculty support and their major faculty advisor has been in his role for years.  But to place top five, the team needs to secure all of the technical points that they can get and then hold their own in the water.  Historically, WKU hasn't been able to accomplish the latter.  But spelunking this winter may help to change this... and we'll all know soon.


A strong national contingent...

There are a number of other schools who could place top five, even upset the field and win, or influence the final outcome by scoring major points in one or more categories.  All I can say is that the big guns better keep a watchful eye on Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo in the product category... and  seasoned veterans like Drexel (best display and oral presentation in '88), North Carolina State University, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Washington.

If you're a gambler and like to bet on long shots... watch Texas A&M... and, especially the University of Evansville who finished sixth in their debut at last year's competition..  These teams remind me of how Team UAH began to move toward victory many, many years ago.

Schools returning from past years include: Fairmont State University, Louisiana State University, the University of Maine, Polytechnic University, and the University of Wisconsin - Platteville.


The newcomers (no national statistics yet) are Clarkson University, Ohio Northern University, and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Clarkson University with "Archimedes"  - Upstate New York.

Ohio Northern with "American Pride" - North Central.

The University of Nevada, Reno fields "euphoria" - Mid-Pacific.

The veterans have played this game before.  So chances are that some of them will make strong showings.  The newcomers will be under intense pressure.  But if they keep their cool, they may strike some significant blows by placing high in one or all categories.


Here's my best guess for the top three finishers (from my top five picks) in the four major scoring categories (in no particular order):

Report Presentation Product Races
Michigan Tech
Michigan Tech

Note that the above table does not account for other schools that may place high in these categories... and I think that there will be at least two categories (presentation and product) where other schools take top three honors.

In short, this year's competition will be very close... Team UAH, 3CT, and the Badgers will vie for the top three spots... with the Bears and Michigan Tech very close behind.  A slip by any of these competitors will mean absolute disaster... making room for luckier and more skillful competitors to finish top five.

But anything can happen... and all of the teams that I haven't targeted for the win will want to prove me wrong.  But if you do, rest assured that your school will be among my top picks in the years to come!

Good luck and may the best team win...

Through the years, Team UAH and I have developed a great deal of respect for our sister schools in the Southeast and for those schools that we've faced at the national level.  We wish all of you the very best of luck at this year's competition and hope that you'll take time to say hello to us in Stillwater as we report for ConcrereCanoe.org.

More importantly, if you enjoy our coverage and want to help support ConcreteCanoe.org, please contact me.  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.  So please see our graphics and instructions for doing so.  Thanks!

Closing remarks...

In closing, remember that there's only one first place trophy... but every team that does their best with the resources that they have at their disposal is a winner.  There's always next year for those of us who choose to make a difference and move "Forward" toward victory...  whether it's in concrete canoeing or simply in life.  There is definitely a pun intended with the quotes in the latter statement.  I might have even been inclined to christen my boat "4-ward" ... if I had 3 consecutive titles under my belt.  But all champions have to relinquish their titles someday.  So, no matter how bad... or good... things get, remember...

"Being defeated is often a temporary condition.  Giving up is what makes it permanent."
-- Marlene vos Savant

Finally, I thought that the Committee on National Concrete Canoe Competitions (CNCCC) did an excellent job this year in formulating and clarifying the rules.  The Committee is currently soliciting input regarding the regional competitions... and if you have suggestions on how to make things better, I encourage you to forward your comments to Michael Carnivale with "Concrete Canoe Feedback" in the subject line."

That's all for now... See you at OSU!


That's it for 2006... the Badgers were totally awesome.  Wisconsin-Madison won by a landslide leaving little doubt in anyone's mind that the team deserved and earned their fourth consecutive national victory.  In addition, the top five teams were established (UW Madison, Cal Poly, 3CT, Berkeley, and Michigan Tech).  But it was a grueling competition for many of the participating teams and very frustrating for some of the faculty advisors that have been involved in the competition for many years. 

As for me (and I'm speaking for myself here as Team UAH's advisor and for no one else), I never envisioned that point deductions would have been lodged for patching our canoe with a mix that clearly met competition standards.  Fortunately, due to recent rule changes that provide for appeals, we were able to successfully restore 25 of the 75 points deducted from our final product (75/100).  But we weren't successful getting the other 50 points back... deducted for allegedly failing to provide adequate documentation on the sealant used to finish our boat.  The stress imposed on me and my team during the appeal process was unbearable... and it progressively took its toll as time passed on and on, and on and on, until a final decision was rendered immediately prior to the banquet.

Since I've already received many e-mails from our competitors, faculty advisors, team supporters, UAH alumni, sister schools in the Southeast, and the general public asking me why we placed so low in the product category, I feel compelled to explain why... and let you be the judge.  So, let's begin with our appeal regarding the sealant:

NCCC Deduction Reasoning

“No documentation that clear coat sealer is in compliance w/ ASTM C1315.”

UAH Response

Rule 5.6 states that, “Concrete sealers (penetrating or surface coating) may be applied to any portion of the canoe at the discretion of the team.  Any sealer must meet the following requirements: in compliance with ASTM C-1315, Type 1 (clear or transparent); Class A (non-yellowing) or Class B (moderate yellowing); and VOC content less than or equal to 700 g/lL.  The application of sealer to any portion of the canoe shall be limited to a maximum of two (2) coats following the manufacturer’s recommended procedure for application and thickness.

Rule 5.8.1 states that, “The MTDS must provide information clearly verifying that the materials used in the canoe, such as stains and sealers, are in compliance with all of the specifications.”

1.       Team UAH interpreted Rule 5.6 to mean that any sealant used during construction of the concrete canoe must be either Type 1, Class A, or Class B as defined in ASTM C-1315.

2.       The ASTM C-1315 standard (see attached - not included here... jag) defines a Type 1 (see Section 5, General Requirements) sealant as follows: “Type 1 liquid membrane-forming compound shall be clear or translucent and have a minimum of 25% solids by mass.”

3.       UAH selected Dupont, Nason Selectclear 497-00 to seal “Full Spectrum” and sprayed the product onto the surface of the canoe in two (2) coats following manufacturer’s recommendations.

4.       The team included an MTDS for this product in their Engineer’s Notebook stating that, “497-00 is an easy-to-spray urethane clearcoat.”  As stated on the MTDS, the product has a percent solid of 38.4 by weight and a VOC ready-to-spray of 4.3 lbs/gal (515.3 g/L).  A copy of this document can be found on line at:



Since Team UAH clearly met all of the requirements specified in the National Rules regarding sealants, their product is in full compliance with the rules.

I thought that my students did an excellent job pleading their case but, in the end, it was painfully obvious that the judges had a very different view.  It was clearly a case of a communication breakdown... the type of thing that keeps lawyers in business.  So, for arguments sake, and as a lesson to our budding engineers, let's look at this situation a bit more closely.

Evidently, the judges were under the impression that the sealant had to meet all of the requirements stipulated in the ASTM C-1315 standard... but this is not what the rule said.  In standard code writing, the statement: "in compliance with ASTM C-1315, Type 1" is to be interpreted that: the sealant needs to be of Type 1 as defined in ASTM C-1315.  The inclusion of the comma "," leaves no room for debate... and the only requirement from the standard that must be met is defined in Item 2 above.

What distressed me most about this situation, on site, was that our sealant probably met all of the ASTM C-1315 requirements... but we weren't made aware of the point deduction until after the close of business on Friday.  I realized as soon as I read the deduction sheet that the judges and our team weren't on the same page... and was very upset when our project manager was unable to reach Dupont to secure the additional documentation that I knew that we needed to avoid further debate.

Now... according to Section, "Immediately following the aesthetics judging of the team's Final Product, the judges shall come to a consensus of which standardized deductions as listed on the Final Product Deduction Score Card (Appendix A-6), if any, shall be assessed against a team.  The head judge or CNCCC member shall immediately provide the team captains a Final Product Deduction Score Card indicating which deductions, including their point value, are being applied and a Request for Clarification and Appeals Form (Appendix B-3 or B-4)." 

The aesthetics judging of the Final Product took place on Thursday afternoon... we received word of the deductions on Friday evening... after close of business!  Need I say more?

A good lawyer would have had a field day and an easy time arguing our position in court.  And, at this point, I don't know whether to be mad or just sad about this unfortunate situation.  But one thing is certain... things need changing.

I love this competition and I'm willing to do anything that I can... while working with ASCE and the CNCCC... to correct this sort of mishap.  And, I'm sure that my colleagues, who spend so much time advising their teams, will do the same.  I think that we would all agree... that if our team stretches the rules too far or makes a mistake... we pay the price... and that's that!  But what's really important is that we're playing on a level field... with rules that clearly define our boundaries.

In retrospect, the thing that distresses me most is that we failed to adequately represent our sister schools in the Southeast by placing top five, thereby preventing our region from capitalizing on the top five rule... initiated largely because of the friction that was occurring in our highly competitive region so many years ago.  If consideration was given to placing the "," in the rule; or, if we had had the time that we deserved to provide further documentation on our sealant, we may have finished top five... meeting the goal that we had set for ourselves at the beginning of our stint.

Having said this, I was very impressed by OSU as the competition's host.  Their facilities were excellent and the competition went very smoothly.  Make no mistake... I also appreciated the time and effort spent by the national judges... who worked diligently to make some very difficult decisions.  It's my view that in the heat of battle, there was little time for them to respond and virtually no room for debate.  They did a great job focusing on... and remaining steadfast in their position... but, unfortunately, time and communication were insufficient for proper execution of the rules and clarification of our position.

One solution to this problem may be to ask teams to provide their Engineer's Notebook up front along with the design reports.  This would allow the judges plenty of time to review the documentation contained therein .  The evaluation of the notebook could even be incorporated into the score tabulated for the final product.

Rendering a decision on appeals earlier would also help... and giving a team that makes an appeal just five minutes to plead their case before making a ruling against them may help to clarify gray areas and clear the air.  At least teams would know where they stood so that members could get back to the business at hand.  Considering that most teams spend thousands of hours on the project, a five minute hearing isn't much to ask.  It may not change anyone's mind but the process could make a big difference in how people feel during and after the competition... and feelings are very, very important!

So, now that you have an appreciation of how I felt in Oklahoma, it's time for me to let bygones be bygones, and strive to move on to better times...

As far as "The Front Line" is concerned:  I pegged four out of five of the top finishers (Madison, Clemson, Berkeley, and Michigan), and told you to watch for Cal Poly in the product category.  Unfortunately, my prophecy about a competitive school running into problems, thereby falling out of contention for a top spot, came true for Team UAH.  But... "Being defeated is often a temporary condition.  Giving up is what makes it permanent."

My hat goes off to Nevada-Reno for finishing sixth in their first national appearance.  No doubt, the Bears will have their hands full next year in the Mid-Pacific region.

In closing, this competition has taught me that little things like a punctuation mark can make a big difference... whether it's leaving a dash out of your pagination or pleading a case based on a comma.  It reminds me that when I'm finally gone, the simple dash ["-"] between the time that I entered this life and the time that I left it will reflect all of my days on earth... many of them spent happily while promoting concrete canoeing.

On the bright side... I wanted the best team to win... and they did.  So, see you next year in Seattle... when the University of Washington takes command as the competition's host school during the NCCC's 20th anniversary!

Meanwhile, for those of us that had a rough time of it this year, just remember...