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UW-Madison bridge, canoe teams sweep regional competition

May 7, 2007 By Renee Meiller

Overcoming such obstacles as thunderstorms, muddy turf and an emergency hotel-hallway bridge-building practice, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Concrete Canoe Team and Steel Bridge Team each dominated the Great Lakes Regional Competition, held April 26-29 at Purdue University.

The Concrete Canoe Team scored a perfect 100 points, finishing first in each of five races and drawing top scores on its technical paper, presentation and final product judging. "Everything went as well as we could have hoped," says team co-chair Austin Kazda. "Improvements in inlay techniques, as well as a new overlay technique, helped improve the aesthetics. Our paddler training was a success as we finished first in all of the races."

Four-time national champions, the group again advances to the national competition. Held June 14-16 at the University of Washington in Seattle, the event will draw more than 20 of the best concrete canoe teams in the country. To prepare, UW–Madison team members will continue to edit their technical paper, rehearse their presentation and practice racing technique. "From what we can tell, it is going to be a well-organized and fun weekend," says Kazda. "We're looking forward to it."

The Steel Bridge Team capitalized on the long hours of preparation members devoted to designing, fabricating and practicing for competition. "Enough cannot be said about our construction team and the selfless effort they give every time they come to practice," says team co-chair Bill Schmitz.

The team earned top scores in construction speed (besting runner-up University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by a full six minutes), construction efficiency, structural efficiency, lightness and aesthetics, and a second-place score in the stiffness, or aggregate deflection, category.

On paper, the team won handily. However, during its practice runs-held inside the Purdue ROTC firing range building-the students weren't so sure about their chances, says Schmitz. "We had problems with grit getting into our connections," he says.

The group tried twice to construct its bridge, with no luck. "We had to stop, sand and file pieces-and then refit them to ensure everything worked," he says. "After the problems on the second practice run, we stopped practicing and decided to set up the bridge in our hotel room to ensure that all members connected smoothly."

But the bridge was too big for the room. "We had to tell the hotel staff that we had an emergency so that we could use a hallway to set up the bridge," says Schmitz. "Luckily, all pieces but one fit together smoothly and the last one only needed light sanding to get together. We took the bridge apart and packed it in the boxes knowing that the construction team was still worried. As it turned out, the team's worry turned to joy as the construction team churned out their fastest time of the year."

Grit aside, the team will continue to attempt to improve its construction speed before the national competition May 25-26 in Los Angeles at the University of California at Northridge. "We will look to feed off the momentum gained in the regional competition as we head to nationals," says Schmitz. "The support from our team members, students, faculty and staff is an incentive for all of us to do our best to represent UW–Madison."

UW-Madison students also placed in the Concrete Frisbee competition, and a technical presentation by student Jerry Wilke received second place. In addition, the UW–Madison group also won the competition sportsmanship award. "This was a real tribute to how the team conducted themselves, given that they won so many of the events," says College of Engineering Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Steve Cramer, who advises the teams.