Concrete canoe team to compete regionally in Miami


Samuel Yang

In the corner of a dusty workshop at Hardaway Hall is a child’s dream come true.

“This is probably going to be some kid’s dollhouse eventually,” Josh Morrison says about the brick castle front, complete with a moat and “BAMA” in red letters.

First, though, the student chapter of American Society of Civil Engineers is taking the display and its accompanying concrete canoe to the ASCE Southeast Student Conference, where Alabama hopes once again to be crowned in Miami. Morrison is a co-captain in the inter-disciplinary team of engineers who are competing in the “concrete canoe” event.

“We built a concrete boat, and all these schools get together and we race them,” captain Steven Burroughs said. “It looks really good on a job application. It’s fun, and you learn a lot.”

The canoe, made of a concrete mix unique to the team, will participate in five races and be presented and judged at the conference on Friday and Saturday.

“We’re hoping to be in the top three, because if you place in the top three you win $1,500,” Morrison said. “If we get that, next year’s team will have more money.”

Alabama has placed in the top 10 and five in the past, and this year saw an increase in efficiency, resources and members. For instance, the team had one captain and three co-captains, where before it only had one. Burroughs called this a “Round Table” in the spirit of King Arthur.

“It wasn’t one person running everything,” Morrison said. “A lot of time was spent achieving [the canoe]. There was a lot of task delegating, getting dates right. It was kind of stressful, but we were able to achieve it.”

Morrison also cited a new partnership with the University’s steel bridge team, which competes in timed bridge construction, as a positive influence.

“This year, we joined concrete canoes and the steel bridge team together and made the two teams work together toward making ASCE better,” he said. “We made it one instead of two entities, and we were able to do a lot more this year.”

The two teams will be joined by seven other teams, competing in a total of nine events, at the conference. Clayton Dodd, captain of the steel bridge team and upcoming UA ASCE student chapter president, said the organization has grown from having 40 paid members to 110, with similar increases in regular attendance.

“This year’s focus was not only to compete well but to bring us together as a whole. We pull for [the concrete canoe team] like they pull for us,” he said. “It’s made us a better student chapter.”

The steel bridge team will go to nationals if it can place in the top three, and Dodd feels confident that with their bridge – only the second at the University to be entirely made by students – and a good completion time, they are certain to make top five.

“That’s the confidence I have in this bridge. We’re a close-knit team, which makes it better. This is a yearlong process,” he said. “We’ve got the group we’re comfortable with by the time we get to this point.”

In the parking lot of the UA Engineering Student Projects Building, the bridge comes to life in a series of jolts, clanks and exhortations. Freshman Virgil Clifton runs the pieces from one side to a group of engineers who construct the bridge on the spot. They get the job done in just under 20 minutes, but the team plans on more practice runs to push that time down.

“There are lines on the ground you have to stay in. There are checklists and penalties for things like dropping bolts,” Dodd said. “It’s about just the simple things. Move on to the next thing. The fastest way to get this done is talking. Teamwork is where it’s at.”

The ASCE Southeast Student Conference will be March 14-16 in Miami, Fla.