For spring break, Kelsey Grindle did not choose Florida or Cancun. The Illinois State University student opted for Raleigh, where she stood in the rain Saturday watching a classmate fruitlessly throw a small leather bag filled with buckshot up into a willow oak.
“This is so much better than just partying,” Grindle enthused after Jonathan Buettner tried the baseball throw, the two handed granny shot, the one armed cradle throw and the forward arch throw.
None of the techniques worked. Zero points for ISU in the treeline throw half of the tree climbing competition at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.
Buettner and Grindle were two of 850 students from 65 colleges across the country competing this weekend in the 39th annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition, known and loved by arborists, backhoe artists and horticulturally inclined stoneworkers as the Olympics of Landscaping.
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The tree climbing competition was one of 28 individual and team events that included small-engine repair, computer-aided landscape design, irrigation troubleshooting, turf and weed identification, and navigating a truck and trailer through a tightly curved track, with points deducted for toppled or upended cones.
Grindle was not feeling very Olympian as he struggled to thread his throwline through one of three crotches marked with tape in the oak tree.
“I regret the baseball throw,” he said. “I was kind of cocky after another guy did it, and I figured if he could, I could.”
Joe Neville was having better luck in another nearby quercus phellos. Strapped into a climbing harness, Neville pulled himself up by ropes in the oak tree while his colleague Sean Molter belayed him from the ground.
Neville, who had sketched out his route the night before, ascended, performed required rope and carabiner maneuvers, rang several dangling bells and returned to the ground in 5 minutes, 18 seconds.
“I did a lot better than last year,” Neville said. Last year the Olympics were held at Colorado State University, and North Carolina rain seemed less of an obstacle than Rocky Mountain snow.
A Friday job fair gave students access to dozens of landscape companies. The sponsors included many names familiar to landscapers everywhere: Stihl, John Deere, Caterpillar and Husqvarna.
Steve Lotz traveled from John Deere headquarters in Moline, Ill., to oversee the compact excavator competition, which has three stages. Students first do a safety check on a small backhoe. In stage two, students use the backhoe to pick up large rocks, swing them around 180 degrees and deposit them into a hula hoop on the ground. The final step is to use the backhoe to dig a hole, 4 feet square and 1 foot deep, with points awarded for straight cuts, vertical walls and proper depth.
Adam Frans of the College of Western Idaho said he was surprised at the pressure he felt to finish the task precisely in 10 minutes.
“I could have done a lot better,” he said.
Christian Mighell of Colorado State University said he was pleased with his work in the skid steer competition, which involved moving a pallet with a bucket of water on top from Point A to Point B. He took a break to cheer on two teammates in the hardscape contest, in which 21 teams laid pavers and built stone walls according to a pattern handed out Friday.
Teammate Brett Throgmorton was whacking on a stone with chisel and hammer, and finally split the stone in two along the correct angle.
“Nice job, Brett!” Mighell cheered.