CLEMSON -- Football, schmootball -- civil engineering
students at Clemson University may be able to create their
own sports dynasty at this year's National Concrete Canoe Competition.
Teams from 24 premier universities are expected to
participate in this "think or swim" championship at Philadelphia's Drexel University. The competition, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Master Builders Inc., showcases student skills and ingenuity through the design, construction and racing of, yes, a concrete canoe.
Clemson's powerhouse team -- the 2002 champions -- is
returning to defend their title with their 176-pound Main Course. Clemson, called "clearly the team to beat" by event sponsors, has won three national competitions or placed among the top five teams over the past five years.
"Young engineers can learn everything in the classroom,
except how to respond with ingenuity and creativity, daring
to overcome impossible challenges," said ASCE President
Thomas L. Jackson. "These future engineers will be the ones
to solve the problems of global water supply, energy and
even space colonization, all of which will require bold and innovative solutions."
Clemson is expected to face stiff competition from the other teams, including host school Drexel, Rowan University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Oklahoma, New Mexico State University, Colorado School of Mines and Florida Institute of Technology. Teams competing at nationals bested nearly 200 teams this past spring in regional competitions. They now go on to compete for $9,000 in scholarships, but primarily the thrill of victory and "I kicked your boat" bragging rights.
Significant changes to the rules -- which now require
students to use ordinary sand as 15 percent of their
aggregate mixture and recycled coal fly ash as 20 percent of the binding material -- seem to be yielding heavier canoes, bucking the 15-year trend towards lighter, sleeker canoes. The average weight for canoes competing in this year's competition is 160 pounds, although several schools have entries that weigh in at 230 pounds. The average weight of the canoes competing in 2001 was a mere 117 pounds.
Other technical changes were also made, but one of the most obvious will be the boats' beauty. The canoes can be stained, but not painted. This change challenges students to produce aesthetically pleasing boats based on the concrete, not the paint. Previous years' concrete canoes looked more like high-end kayaks, as opposed to engineering lab creations.
Despite their mass in volume, the canoes are still far from
the floating bathtubs. Canoes competing at the national
level typically resemble fiberglass racing canoes and boast sophisticated designs aimed at achieving the best combination of speed and maneuverability.
Clemson's 21-foot Main Course is constructed of a
light-weight concrete reinforced with a polypropylene mesh
and pre-tensioned tendons. It has a dramatically new hull design intended to compliment the paddlers' strengths.
"Every team at the national competition has had to prove themselves somewhere else to get here," said Clemson's Kyle Farley, project co-manager. "We believe we can do it, but we also know that every other team here has a chance to step up and win."
Team members include Farley, of Chapin; October McConnell,
the team's other co-manager, Greenville; Matt Goodner, Rock Hill; Ben Williams, Greenville; Scott Horton, Elgin; Chrissy Sloyer, Seeknok, Mass; Seth Dean, Charleston; Josh Grein, Rock Hill; John Bauknight, Charlotte; Ashley Stamps, Greenville; Mary-Halis Alkis, Spartanburg; Hayes Jones, Rock Hill; Brad Putman, Clemson; and Eric Hartman, Denver, N.C. Team adviser is civil engineering professor Serji Amirkhanian.