Montana Tech Pre-Apprentice Line Program Competes Nationally

Montana Tech Pre-Apprentice Line Program Competes Nationally


Following spring break, 13 students in Montana Tech’s Pre-Apprentice Line Program, which is a part of the College of Technology, competed in a collegiate lineman rodeo in Chandler, Arizona. Faculty advisors traveling with the students included Bob McCormick and Jim Wheeldon, program instructors, Trades and Technical Department Head Bill Ryan, and COT enrollment representative Sabrina Holland. The rodeo, hosted by Chandler-Gilbert Community College, drew line programs from other states including Michigan, Nebraska, and Arizona as well as two utility apprenticeship training programs, The Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service. In all, 63 pre-apprentice and apprentice line workers participated in the competition. 

A lineman rodeo is a competition to showcase skills that are required in the utility line worker industry. This competition featured events such as a utility pole speed climb, cross arm change out, obstacle climb, and C-1 type pole framing on the ground. Also included was a written test covering the pertinent information and knowledge required to safely and effectively work in the industry. The rodeo had both individual and team competitions which were evaluated by utility line professionals from around the region.  Scoring criteria was strict, with deductions for crooked insulators and hardware, showing off (hot dogging), or cutting-out (temporarily losing contact with the pole and falling a few feet before re-gripping and continuing to climb). The top ten finishers in each category were recognized at a banquet at the end of the competition with the top three finishers receiving awards.

Individual accomplishments from Tech included Gabe Webster who placed first overall in the cross arm change-out with a time of two minutes flat and zero deductions. None of the top ten finishers received point deductions so time was the only factor in determining the winner. Tech had nine students with zero deductions and although they did not place due to time, the students still demonstrated a perfect application procedure. 

Two Tech students placed in the top ten of the written test competition.  Mike Arnold placed third and Ronnie Te Beest placed seventh, missing one and two questions respectively. Since this competition was also time based, Eric Applin and Darren Anthony did not place in the top ten but both did extremely well on the test by only missing three questions each. 

Zane Yount took tenth place in the obstacle climb with a time of 4:48 and a perfect score. Five other Tech students received perfect scores in this competition. 

Team competition results placed Mike Arnold, Gabe Webster and Dan Helmers sixth overall and Ronnie Te Beest, Darren Anthony and Jeff Heinrichs in tenth place. When scores were tabulated, Zane Yount, Danny Winchell and Shane Freese placed 12th overall, just shy of the top ten cut-off.

Montana Tech is home to the only pre-apprentice program in Montana and students learn the skills in half the time of students in other programs.  Several of the professional judges commented on the high skill level and impressive performance of the students from Montana. "I would like to thank  Montana Tech for the opportunity to compete and showcase the skills that we teach in our pre-apprentice line program," said program director Bob McCormick. "I am very proud of the students and how well each of them did."  Instructor Jim Wheeldon added, "There was some fierce competition down there!"