Monthly Archives: April 2013

It’s A Real Competition…

Max Sheehan, AEPS student

Max Sheehan, PLANET Competition 2013

Cal Poly 2013 Planet Team


The mornings are always early on a PLANET trip. Having to wake up way before the “magic eight hours of sleep checkpoint” becomes commonplace. The first morning started early because of our drive from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles to catch our flight to Atlanta, Georgia. We then had a two-hour drive to Auburn, Alabama. After the fourteen- hour first day of traveling, we had a whole day to figure out our events and workshops. We took over one of the conference rooms in the hotel and renamed it “Cal Poly Headquarters”. This became our home base for the next four days. We spent many hours studying, conversing, strategizing, eating, and occasionally taking breaks to laugh at Taylor Swift parodies on YouTube. But mostly we were just studying. So what did we do on the trip?

Day 1

Day one consisted of us planning our own schedules, and figuring out where and when we needed to be so that we didn’t miss any of our events or workshops. We got a chance to walk around the campus at Auburn University, and it was quite impressive. The football stadium itself was massive and located right in the heart of the campus. I couldn’t even imagine the 80,000 screaming football fans that it seats, since I was coming from a small football team at Poly.  But, I’m getting side tracked…

We walked the campus, and found buildings and sites where our different events would be held come Friday and Saturday. Then we were treated to a big dinner with Valley Crest Landscapes to introduce us to that famous Southern BBQ. Then we had more studying and went to bed to rest up for the coming days.

Day 2

Day two was the day of workshops. Those of us who had events that required explanations or demonstrations were urged to go to these workshops where you could gain valuable information on your events, and even get a leg up on the competition. I had a few workshops: one for hardscape installation where they demonstrated the proper techniques that they were looking for on our finished product come Saturday. I also attended a workshop for the truck and trailer event where they explained the course and all the penalties. In these workshops, they stressed job safety and how we could prevent injury. Finally, I went to the Tractor Loader Backhoe event workshop where they went over the logistics of the event as well as provided an equipment overview. Again they stressed safety in their talks to ensure that it sunk in and that we all understood the dangers of working the equipment. Almost all of the event sponsors talked about safety being essential in the workplace; whichever workplace that may be. I think that PLANET asks the sponsors to stress safety specifically because it is probably the most important aspect of the landscape industry from a company standpoint. This emphasis is a really good thing to have stressed to the participants because it makes the events safer, and it implants the safety aspect into our daily habits.

After the workshops ended, there was more studying to be had, more great food, as well as a good night sleep. On a side note, if you can’t tell, we eat…A LOT…. These trips usually involve gaining a few pounds due to the delicious food provided by the sponsors. And the fact that we ate AT LEAST three full meals a day, which for me is almost unheard of back home.

Day 3

Day three brought with it the opening ceremonies, which is always a good time. There you got to see all of the other schools participating, as well as a re-cap of the events from the prior year, when Cal Poly placed second. You got to cheer your schools’ anthem, which for us is usually conducted by Mike Magnani about two minutes before it’s our turn. We usually come up with something fun and tribal in nature. Following the opening ceremonies, we were all in “schedule mode” as we attended our half-hour event briefings. The basic point of the briefings was to clarify any questions that anyone had, as well as to go over the rules for each event in specific detail.

After all of the event briefings, some of the event competitions began that very same night. For example, I had my Construction Cost Estimating event competition that Friday night where I thought that I did fairly well. I finished strong with plenty of time left. I ended up placing thirteenth out of around sixty-five students. It was stressful in a room where all you heard was tapping feet and pencils scratching and erasing. Luckily I was allowed to listen to some sweet tunage via the iPod while I was completing the event, so the stress was less than the year before. After completing the event I returned to “Cal Poly HQ” and studied for my events to come on Saturday. Then, of course, bed…

Day 4

Day Four. The Big Day. We woke up early to hit the breakfast bar at the hotel (which was amazing). The morning started strong with some of us starting at 8am with our events. Fortunately I didn’t start with Hardscape installation until 10am. It was a one-hour and fifty-minute event. Which meant it was 110 minutes of adrenaline and stress as Cody “magic fingers” Stewart and I raced to finish our mini hardscape patio. Luckily for us, we had been practicing our strategy for a month ahead of time, so we were pros at this point. As the last minutes wound down, we were scrambling to finish the patio, frantically sweeping and cleaning the area to make it look as good as possible. Finally it was over, and man did it look good… We finished, which is more than most of the teams could say. It was a difficult event to compete in; and even harder to do well in. This year we took tenth out of sixty or more teams. Which for Cody and I was a BIG DEAL! We made Chris Wassenberg (one of our PLANET coaches) proud; or at least his equivalent of that emotion… We can never tell with him!

It was 110 minutes of adrenaline and stress as Cody “magic fingers” Stewart and I raced to finish our mini hardscape patio.

It was 110 minutes of adrenaline and stress as Cody “magic fingers” Stewart and I raced to finish our mini hardscape patio.

Then came lunch, which in the middle of the frantic day was an amazing point of relaxation in between the chaos. All I want to say about lunch is “peanut butter pie”. Following lunch was my next competition with fellow teammate Andy Klittich. It was Wood construction: a high-intensity, saw-buzzing, drill-whirring good time. It, like hardscape installation was a one-hour-fifty-minute event and every minute was go go go! This year, the event sponsor, Stihl, decided that a bench was too Plain Jane, so our task was to build a swing instead. After staring at the plan like it was in Chinese for about ten minutes, we established our plan of attack and started to make headway on our swing. And with fifteen minutes to spare, we finished! We ended up taking second place, which was really exciting! Our swing was professional looking, to say the least. It was a shame we couldn’t bring it home with us!

So pretty, we wanted to take it home with us!

So pretty, we wanted to take it home with us!

Then it was a quick jog to the Truck Trailer Operation, where Andy and I would test our ability to safely load a ride-on mower and drive a large truck/trailer set-up through a ridiculously small course. With a little bit of patience and some great test taking and loading know how, Andy and I took first in the competition.

We had to maneuver through a ridiculously small course

We had to maneuver through a ridiculously small course

Then it was a final jaunt to the Tractor Loader Backhoe competition. This event tested our balance of speed and accuracy with the backhoe teeth as you had to pick up three different sized balls and deposit them into a bucket. Point deductions were easy to accrue, and even though I dropped the smallest ball as I attempted to remove it from its PVC perch, I was still able to win the event based on my overall time.

Tractor Loader Backhoe competition. This event tested our balance of speed and accuracy with the backhoe teeth as you had to pick up three different sized balls and deposit them into a bucket.

Tractor Loader Backhoe competition. This event tested our balance of speed and accuracy with the backhoe teeth as you had to pick up three different sized balls and deposit them into a bucket.

Then in tradition, most of the team gathered to watch the end of the Landscape Installation event, where almost everyone who participated in PLANET cheered their team on. We had a great spot next to Palo Alto Community College out of Texas. They were some really nice people, just like many of the other teams at the competition. After a long day of competition, we all had a great dinner and most of us chose a quick nap session before celebrating with the rest of the team. We worked really hard, and now we finally got to relax, with only the suspense of how we placed weighing on our minds.

Day 5

Day five was an early start, big surprise, because of Closing Ceremonies. Here, everyone gathered again like in the Opening Ceremonies, however we were all just waiting to hear about how we placed. There are a few speakers, and then the results came out. They went event by event, calling the top three teams to the stage to receive prizes from the sponsors. Many of our Cal Poly competitors ended up making the walk to the stage either as an individual, or as a pair. I got to go up three times: twice with Andy, and once by myself. Cal Poly SLO was announced as receiving fourth place overall, however we noticed that the points were off a bit, so we made the call and the correction was made a few weeks later that we had actually received second place overall!

I placed fifth overall student out of 800 students, which is extremely exciting for me as I strived this year for a place in the top 5! After some celebration and photos, we took off for some good ol’ Jimmy John’s Sandwiches. We then raced to Atlanta to catch our flight back to L.A. and then our four-hour drive back up to San Luis. We made it back home around midnight on Sunday after an almost full day of traveling.

This competition has been an incredible experience for me for the last three years. I am extremely sad that I have to let it go next year as I will be graduating in the Fall. The places I have been: Chicago, Kansas, and Alabama, have been great places to visit with amazing people at all of the events too! The stress and anticipation is addicting at times and is something that makes all of us strive to be greater. It’s kind of cool being around so many people from around the nation that have the same interests as you. We all love the industry and want to do our best as we graduate from school and enroll in real life. And as I do just that, I will always remember PLANET, the team mates I have had, the professors that have helped immensely, and the competition itself for being so damn fun. I will definitely take what I have learned and apply it later on as I start my career.

Cal Poly placed Second overall two years in a row!

Cal Poly placed Second overall two years in a row!



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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in Uncategorized