By JOHN A. GILBERT
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the U.S. National Concrete Canoe Competition and it promises to be a really big show. For the record, I've missed only two of the past twenty four competitions and I would have absolutely loved to attend this one... but my daughter is getting married that Saturday and the rehearsal dinner is on Friday night. Nonetheless, as the webmaster for concretecanoe.org, I plan to post the results on Sunday morning.
My commentary and tops picks are written mainly to heighten the interest in concrete canoeing, give the qualifiers the recognition that they deserve, and shed light on past, present, and future competitions. But this year, before I get down to business, I thought that I'd shed some light on my dark side.
For me, Reno is the perfect place to stage this competition...
I began playing poker 50 years ago when I worked as a caddy during the summer in Westchester County, New York. The job allowed me to set aside a poker stash which gradually increased to the point where I could play pot limit stud back home in New York City.
By the time that I moved to Chicago to work on my doctorate degree, that little stash had accumulated to a sizable investment. And after I secured my first permanent job as a professor of engineering in Wisconsin, I continued to read books to improve my game.
But it wasn't until I moved to Alabama and visited the poker rooms in Mississippi that I fell in love with Texas Hold'em and Omaha. And in 2009, I entered the opening event at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Tunica.
I immediately recognized Chris Moneymaker and my heart pounded as I watched the introductory clip and heard Tournament Director Jimmy Sommerfeld say "Let's Shuffle Up and Deal!" I cashed in 28th place and returned two days later to claim my first WSOP title (see here). Since then, I worked my way into the casting pool for "The Big Game" and if PokerStars had not gotten into trouble, I could have been playing high stakes poker on TV backed with $100k against the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Doyle Brunson.
So, I can appreciate what the surroundings in Reno have to offer. Attending the 25th anniversary of the NCCC would have been the icing on the cake.
Just as in the game of poker, consistency, patience, and perseverance are the keys to success in a concrete canoe competition and because there are so many qualifiers that possess these qualities, predicting the top five and selecting a winner in this one are no easy tasks.
Just like in the World Series of Poker, there can be only one winner at the 2012 ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition. In the end, 21 teams will fall short of winning the national title, some liking where they finish in the competition more than others. But to those that feel disappointed, I say: "You're lucky to have been a part of the action."
I think that I speak for every member of Team UAH (for which I have served as faculty advisor for the past 27 years) that, as far as this year's national competition is concerned, we would have liked to have been a Florida Gator. But, I must say, that I was very proud of my team this year.
What happened to Team UAH...
At the Southeast Conference, we finished a close second to the University of Florida in a field which consisted of nineteen entries from the states of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida, as well as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. We went into Tallahassee with a slight advantage after winning the design report category. Florida placed second in that event but evened the score by winning the product category in which we finished second. The Gators earned critical delta points on Friday by winning the presentation category and cased their win on Saturday by sweeping the races. Our hats go off to the University of Florida for a job well done in Tallahassee and we hope that they finish in the top five at nationals. In any event, we're looking forward to some stiff competition from them at next year's Southeast Conference in Miami.
Our international contingent and the sole survivor from 1988...
We're currently covering concrete canoe competitions in 17 different countries on the web and I've updated "Concrete Canoe Fever" to reflect the current status of this unique sport. The popularity and support for these events are increasing rapidly and, as explained below with regard to Laval and ETS, I believe that this will have a significant impact on this year's competition.
For the record, Berkeley is the only representative from the Fortunate Fifteen who qualified for the first national competition in 1988. I distinctly remember groaning back then as Team UAH was beaten technologically, athletically, and psychologically by the Bears. As mentioned in our 1988 coverage,. I can still see Berkeley's entry propped up on saw horses, rising above the other competitors' canoes, just waiting for the judges to proclaim it the winner.
Berkeley had the look and the technical delivery of a champion and they dominated the field in the water. But during the final race, I vowed that, as long as it took, UAH would eventually win nationals more times than them... and in 2001, I'm proud to say that we finally accomplished that goal when we won our fifth national title; albeit the Bears have evened the score since then by winning for a fifth time. It's hard to believe that 25 years have gone by and that I've been doing this for 38 years. I take pride in knowing that I won the only two faculty races held for points at the national level (in 1994 and 1996); and, I'm thankful as a person with degrees in aerospace and engineering mechanics for the exposure that this competition has given me to Civil Engineering and cementitious composites. The strides that we've made led to exciting new opportunities in academia and, from a personal standpoint, enabled me to make lucrative corporate starts.
The 2012 U.S. contenders...
As of this June, 113 schools will have participated at the national level. The first place overall winner in each of 18 Conferences was invited to compete in the 2012 National Concrete Canoe Competition. In addition, if the first place Conference winner finished in the top five overall in the 2011 National Competition (Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Universite Laval, Cal Poly - Pomona, and the University of Nevada, Reno), the second place team was also invited to compete at nationals.
SLO and Pomona were both from the Southwest Conference and finished first and second there, respectively, in 2012. Madison, Laval, and Reno won their Conference Competitions in 2012, thereby establishing the field for the 2012 NCCC at 22. As the 2012 host, Reno is the first school to qualify for the 2013 NCCC..
2012 Statistics (see "For the Record")...
Referring to the chart below, this year's national qualifiers include 4 U.S. and 2 Canadian national champions. Assuming that either Laval or ETS wins the 2012 CSCE Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition to be held in Moncton, New Brunswick on May 10th - 13th (Laval ended up winning it... jag), the national qualifiers will have 16 U.S. and 14 Canadian national titles to their credit.
Altogether the qualifiers have made 145 prior appearances at the U.S. nationals. Clemson and Berkeley will set a new record in 2012 for the most national appearances at nineteen.
The average placement for the field is slightly below 12. Reno holds the record for the highest average placement at 3.67.
For the record, I have a hit rate of 87% 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. Teams that were fortunate enough to qualify in 2012 may just want to review this information before venturing into their question and answer session.
If someone is up to the challenge, I'd love to post a list of the questions asked to the teams in Reno. 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 2012 NCCC following the competition (unfortunately, I did not get any takers here... jag).
My top picks for 2012...
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 Nevada-Reno (Wolf Pack), the Universite Laval (Laval), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Badgers). The University of California - Berkeley (Bears), Ecole de Technologie Superieure (ETS), University of Florida (Gators), and Michigan Tech (Tech) are strong top five contenders and may possibly end up winning this competition.
By all counts, SLO is the clear favorite. But, if I was wagering, I'd put my money on Reno for the win. Reno, SLO, Laval, and Wisconsin should place first through fourth... but not necessarily in that order. Chances are good that one of the other schools mentioned earlier will round out the top five. In making my selections, I may be underestimating the prowess of Cal Poly - Pomona, who finished fourth last year. But, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'd be selecting Pomona as a long shot to finish top five.
Here's why... .with hyperlinks pointing to statistics, and logos pointing to web sites:
Cal State - San Luis Obispo is arguably the best in the game. Last year, they dominated what I considered to be the strongest field in NCCC history. This year, the team will be looking to perform a "hat trick" by winning nationals for the third year in a row.
SLO has finished top five in their last six national appearances. They will be making their thirteenth national appearance and have an impressive average placement record of 6.58.
SLO has won the best product category for three 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.
Last year, SLO fought very hard to stay on top. Provided that nothing goes wrong in Reno...
Top five... no problem. 2012 NCCC Champion... SLO will have to do well in the design report category to defend their national title.
Bottom line: SLO will be the main target in Reno and they will face stiff competition from the rest of the pack. .
That brings us to the host school...
I think that the University of Nevada, Reno will win the competition this year for several reasons: 1) the Wolf Pack has the home court advantage 2) they have been consistent in past stints, 3) their teams have corrected mistakes made in the past, 4) they work well under pressure, and 5) they have an excellent track record for winning in different categories.
Host of the message board for ConcreteCanoe.org, Reno has supported the concrete canoe community by keeping the most recent national spreadsheets. After making their debut in 2006, the Pack quickly improved their delivery and won the national title in 2008. They have five 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 3.67, 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.
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. 2012 NCCC Champion... Chances are that Reno will win on home turf.
Bottom line: The Wolf Pack will be aiming to shoot SLO in the foot... and with their skill and some luck... will hit their mark.
Universite Laval hosts the video and photo galleries for concretecanoe.org. They will be looking for their tenth Canadian national title at the 2012 CNCCC that will take place took place on May 10-13th in Moncton, New Brunswick. The outcome of this competition will be some indication of how well they stack up against another of my other top five favorites, ETS (see below).
Laval has an improved their average placement record to 6.90 in the U.S. and will be making their eleventh national appearance there. Laval is a major contender for the national title because: 1) along with ETS, they will have more competitive experience than the rest, 2) the team is mature, 3) their hull shape and canoe weight are ideal for the races, and 4) the team is hungry for victory.
In January, the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE) and the organizing committee of the Universite de Moncton, proudly announced that they reached a 5 year Sponsoring-Sanctioning agreement for the 18th Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition whereas the event will become known as the CSCE CNCCC. The agreement is proof that professionals in Canada are taking this competition very seriously. The fact that Laval and ETS qualified by winning in the New England and Upstate New York Conferences, respectively, coupled with the fact that Montreal who, as an invited guest in the Metropolitan Conference, finished 0.7 points behind NJIT (who declined their invitation to the big show) bears witness to the prowess of our neighbors to the North.
Significantly, the experience gained by the Canadian qualifiers at the CSCE CNCCC is invaluable and places them at a significant advantage as far as competitive experience is concerned; albeit, there are risks and disadvantages associated with multiple appearances. The wear and tear placed on the boat, for example, may take its toll in the final product category... and serious top-five competitors simply cannot afford to give up delta points there..
Laval has regained their edge in U.S. competition by demonstrating that they can be competitive in every category. Last year's team dominated the races and their men's team set an all time sprint record by finishing the course in less than one minute! This year, I suspect that Laval's boat will weigh slightly less than 80 lb, making them my favorite to win in the water... and the team is very enthusiastic about winning this competition.
Even though this team is the fastest in the game, it won't be smooth sailing for Laval. They will need to finish well in the technical categories to secure victory.
Top five... no doubt. 2012 NCCC Champion... This could be Laval's first U.S. win.
Bottom line: Laval will be very strong and may take the U.S. national title home to Canada.
The University of Wisconsin - Madison has remained among my top five picks for the last decade. The Badgers are one of five teams (SLO, Team UAH, the Berkeley Bears, and Clemson's 3CT are the other four) that have won this competition more than once. All five schools have won back-to-back titles; Berkeley is the only one to have accomplished this feat twice. Berkeley, UAH, and Wisconsin all have five national wins but the Badgers have won five consecutive titles. This year, they and Berkeley will try to set the all time record for the most national wins by making it six.
Long time host of the design report page for ConcreteCanoe.org, the Badgers are a veteran team that will be making their seventeenth appearance at the national level. They hold the record along with Clemson for the most consecutive appearances set after representing the Great Lakes Conference for fourteen years straight! Wisconsin's has an impressive average placement record of 6.44. Unbelievably, the only category that the Badgers have failed to win at the national level is the final product... and the ability to overcome this is their key to victory in 2012.
The Badgers have had some awesome paddlers in the past and have established the tradition of wearing red bandanas during the races. They are typically very strong in the technical categories, especially in the design report and presentation. Assuming they will challenge for best product....
Top five... no doubt. 2012 NCCC Champion... They need to do well in the final product.
Bottom line: Simply put, the Badgers are rock solid. Madison won't place lower than fourth unless they make a mistake or get a bad break.
The University of California - Berkeley is a veteran team who, along with Clemson, will be making a record breaking nineteenth appearance at the national level. This team is rooted in tradition and I love to watch their structured delivery. For decades, in alternate years, the Bears have included the strings "Cal" and "Bear" into the names of their entries.
As mentioned earlier in conjunction with Wisconsin, the Bears are one of five teams (SLO, Team UAH, Wisconsin - Madison, and Clemson's 3CT are the other four) that have won this competition more than once. All five schools have won back-to-back titles; Berkeley is the only one to have accomplished this feat twice. Berkeley, UAH, and Wisconsin all have five national wins but the Badgers have won five consecutive titles. This year, they and Berkeley will try to set the all time record for the most national wins by making it six.
Finishing only once out of the top ten, Berkeley's five national wins (1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, and 2009) and nine other top four finishes (1990, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2008) give them the third highest average placement record in NCCC history (4.00). Their teams have won every category at the national level at least twice and have an unbelievable record of winning the design paper category seven times!.
True to form, Berkeley will rely on their technical expertise and presentation skills to forge ahead in the technical categories. Last year, I said that "they missed last year's competition and may need this stint to come back up to speed." They ended up seventh then but will do better now.
This team was a winner in 1988 and continues to persevere. Considering this year's stiff competition:
Top five... probably. 2012 NCCC Champion... They will need their share of race points to secure a win.
Bottom Line: A seasoned veteran and class act. Definitely a team to watch.
Ecole de Technologie Superieure has four Canadian National titles to their credit and they have finished top three in three of their last four 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 Reno will mark the team's seventh U.S. national appearance. ETS's outstanding recent finishes increased their average placement record to an impressive 7.67.
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.
Consider that ETS placed top three in their last four outings, my thinking is:
Top five... a strong contender. 2012 NCCC Champion... They may get to the winners circle this year.
Bottom Line: A seasoned veteran and spirited competitor. Definitely a threat for top five placement.
The University of Florida is a formidable national contender with teams that have never finished lower than eighth in seven national appearances. The national contingent hasn't seen the Gators lately thanks to Florida Tech and Team UAH. But don't let that fool you because the Gators will try to eat their competitors for lunch. You'll notice that they always include the string "gator" in the name of their entry.
As mentioned earlier, we managed to win the design report category in the Southeast but it was all downhill from there. Florida executed a picture perfect delivery and swept the rest of the competition including an impressive showing in the water. The Gators were consistent, cool under pressure, and had a very good looking product.
Florida knows what they have to do to win at the national level and they won the presentation category there. They will be making their eighth national appearance and have a 5.57 average placement record. Their team will have a very large on-site contingent cheering them on. in Reno.
The Southeast would love to see Florida finish top five to ease the pressure on the Conference next year. My feeling is:
Top five... a good possibility. 2012 NCCC Champion... Go for it!
Bottom Line: Florida is the Southeast representative and we're behind them all the way.
Their teams have placed top five three times and they have placed in the top ten in their past eight 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.
But Tech has veteran leadership and the team is 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.
MTU is a consistent player and my feeling is:
Top five... possibly. 2012 NCCC Champion... Outside chance.
Bottom Line: A consistent and seasoned competitor. Definitely a threat for top five placement.
The long shot...
Last year, I underestimated the capabilities of Cal Poly - Pomona who finished an impressive forth overall. My rationale in not selecting them for a top five slot then was they had not demonstrated that they could win one of the major categories at the national level. But all of that changed last year when they won the oral presentation category. The team was fairly consistent in their delivery and they also placed fourth in the final product.
Pomona will be making their sixth national appearance. The school has a relatively good average placement record of 8.40 and their teams have placed in the top ten in their last four appearances at the national level.
Pomona came a long way to secure a top five spot. The team has the faculty support and forward momentum required to maintain this status... and by picking them as my long shot, I may be underestimating their prowess for a second time.
Pomona is a rising star but my feeling is:
Top five... outside chance. 2012 NCCC Champion... a long shot.
Bottom Line: I'll have egg on my face if this team secures a top five finish. But it takes three strikes to be out.
I may be underestimating the prowess of the rest of the pack by placing them in a
second tier. In particular, it's only a matter of time before Clemson,
a three time national champion, recovers from their slump; albeit their nineteen
national appearances are matched only by Berkeley. Keep in mind that 3CT is the only other school in the rest of the pack
to have finished top five...and they have done that twelve times prior to 2006.
I may be underestimating the prowess of the rest of the pack by placing them in a second tier. In particular, it's only a matter of time before Clemson, a three time national champion, recovers from their slump; albeit their nineteen national appearances are matched only by Berkeley. Keep in mind that 3CT is the only other school in the rest of the pack to have finished top five...and they have done that twelve times prior to 2006.
Other veteran schools that could rise to the top include Louisiana Tech, University of Massachusetts - Lowell, Rutgers, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, University of Texas - Tyler, Utah State University, and Youngstown State University.
The only newcomer (no national statistics yet) is Oregon State University. Chances are that they will have their hands full just getting acclimated. But if they get to Reno early enough and "settle in," they could surprise everyone and end up scoring some major points in the competition. It has happened before... and it could happen again.
OSU brings the number of schools that will have participated at the national level to 113. 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!
I compiled the following table which shows the placements by category for my eight picks during their last three outings along with their average placement in each category.
If you go by these statistics, the top three finishers in the four categories are:
But, as far as I'm concerned: Reno will win the paper, Berkeley will win the presentation, SLO will win the product, and Laval will win the races. But I wouldn't be placing big money on any of this, since there are many other schools that could place high in these categories.
The bottom line...
Just like in tournament poker, you've got to trust your gut when it comes time for a call... and mine tells me that Reno will take top honors on home turf. But anything can happen... and all of the teams that I haven't targeted for the win will want to prove me wrong. So, give it your best shot. If you win... I'll admit I made a mistake.
Good luck and may the best team win...
Needless to say, Team UAH and I would have loved to qualify for nationals and we 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.
In closing, I thought that the Committee on National Concrete Canoe Competitions (CNCCC) really did an excellent job this year in formulating and clarifying the rules. My hat goes off to the sponsors, ASCE, Mike Carnivale, and the Committee for working so hard to make this event happen.
I commend the qualifiers that sent me pre-national photos. If you didn't receive my invitation to send me your photo, I'd be happy to add it.
Thanks to everyone involved for making this one of the most exciting and rewarding competitions in the world! I'll miss seeing all of you in Reno.
It this is anything like the tenth anniversary of the competition in Cleveland, it will be wonderful. I still remember visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Perhaps next time, I'll tell you about how I played in a group called "Your Mutha" and my interaction with Jimmi, Janice, Jim, and Eric at the Fillmore East in New York City.
For the life of me, I still don't have a clue how my rendition of "White Room" got on the web last semester after the students in my Mechanics of Materials class challenged me to play it after 35 years of not doing so. In return, I assigned them the task of telling me who wrote the song (bassist Jack Bruce and poet Pete Brown... jag), which group performed it (Cream... jag), and what they thought that the lyrics meant. I'll giver you my answer for the last question next time (... and I think that you may be surprised by what I have to say.. jag).
Meanwhile, for those of you who may be musicians and/or solid mechanicians... I bought the Viking De Luxe guitar that I brought to class from Sam Ash in 1967. Manufactured in Sweden by Hagstrom Guitars, it was the first to feature an H-bar in the neck.
As opposed to rounder bars, the H-bars increased both the flexural and torsional stiffness. They were stronger and sturdier, and allowed for thinner neck construction. This increased the ease of use, the speed of moving up and down the neck, and made it possible to reach farther frets. The construction was so strong that the neck was guaranteed against twisting or warping... and mine has remained true to form to this day. Elvis loved the Viking... and mine was the prototype for the model that he held while shooting the cover of "From Elvis" in 1968.
As always, I'll be following up on my predictions below shortly after the competition is over.
Well the nationals are over for 2012 and I hated to miss them... but I had the pleasure of giving away my daughter, Ali, in marriage on Saturday. In the process, I gained a wonderful son-in-law in Blakely. The wedding went off without a hitch and I must say, I also did pretty well (100 %) predicting the top five.
By winning the competition for the third year in a row, SLO scored a hat track. Once again, they exposed their Achilles' heel by failing to win the design paper competition (albeit, they finished an impressive third there). But, to their credit, SLO came from behind to score a formidable win with a total score of 93.9 points, just shy of the highest total point score on record (96.5; set by them in 2010).
Laval went into Reno with a slight advantage by winning the design paper category but, similar to what happed between us (Team UAH) and Florida at the Southeast Conference competition, Laval gradually lost ground to SLO as the competition progressed. Overall, the Canadian National champions were consistent and ended up a very strong second with a total score of 84.3.
Placements three through five were extremely close:
Michigan Tech failed to win points in the design paper category and their total score of 54.3 masked how strong they actually were in the remaining events.
With a total score of 54.2, Nevada-Reno nearly nipped Tech. But the Wolf Pack faced a similar dilemma to the one that Tech did by failing to score points in the product category.
By scoring points in all categories, Florida ended up with a total score of 52.7 points, thereby rounding out the top five. Our hats go off to the Southeast champions for meeting our expectations!
All of the other schools that I placed in the top tear finished top ten including my long shot, Cal Poly - Pomona, who finished an impressive seventh. I'll be watching them next year along with Youngstown State who ended up ninth.
Congratulations to all of the national competitors for qualifying and thanks to everyone who made this unique event happen. I'm sure that Reno did a wonderful job as this year's host and hope to see you at nationals next year. My understanding is that the site for the 2013 NCCC has not yet been announced. But rest assured that when it is, I'll post in on the web.
The 2012 concrete canoe racing season is over in places like the U.S., Canada, Israel, Netherlands, and France... but 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.