The joke at Saturday’s East Tennessee Regional Bricklayer 500 competition is that masons have the second oldest profession in history.
Nick Blohowiak, a manager with Spec Mix, the event’s sponsor, said masons have been around longer than the Great Pyramids and are often under appreciated. Saturday’s event at General Shale in Piney Flats let he and others in the industry show appreciation where it’s needed, to the people who work with the brick and mortar Spec Mix and General Shale produce.
“This makes for a nice family event,” Blohowiak said. “We aim it at people in the industry.”
Drinks, music, games, giveaways and barbecue were available around the competition area, that was ultimately conquered by the contest’s favorites Tony Shelton and Fred Campbell. Both know what it feels like to win the regional event and the world championship, which is held in Las Vegas, a place where the pair was victorious in 2013. Six hundred bricks were skillfully placed by Campbell, who had Shelton there as his “tender.”
It’s not just the amount of bricks that are judged, Blohowiak said, but it’s more about the quality of the wall you produced. Campbell jumped out to an early lead, laying more quality bricks than anyone else. With the victory of his team, representing his Creative Masonry business, he and Shelton go back to Las Vegas on Feb. 4 for their chance at reclaiming their title and a shot at a new Ford pickup truck and money and other prizes.
Going into the day’s competition, Campbell said he was confident he could win even though he recently put a knife into his hand and had broken ribs, making him consider the possibility of not competing. Toughing it out, the duo was able to wing against eight other two-man teams. While Campbell is a mason by trade, Shelton isn’t. He builds houses. The two have been friends since they were 15 years old and said they work well together. Shelton said his father used to carry bricks for Campbell’s father.
With the construction competition success the two have had in recent years, Shelton and Campbell said they still take on work, but they’re a bit more popular.
“Everybody wants the best,” Shelton said about their respective companies.
Fans were just a few feet from the competition area Saturday, hollering at their favorite teams.
“Like a picture, baby!” one man screamed. “Turn it loose! You’ve got it plumb,” said another, keeping the intensity up through the entire 60-minute contest. Tenders responded, carrying shovelfuls of “mud” to planned-out spots on the line next to the bricks they’d set up for the bricklayer. With the sweat dripping and fluids being drank quickly, the bricks piled up to plumb lines with trowels and levels rapidly grabbed with every line.
Keith Ray and his family, consisting of children Clayton and Cassidee and wife Charlene, were in attendance to show support for the event. Ray said one of his first jobs was much like a tender, carrying and laying bricks with his uncle, and he knows when a brick is placed correctly. Knowing Campbell was competing as a favorite didn’t change his mind on who he would root for, as he was just there to see the competition and have fun with his family.
“I want to see how fast they get it done,” Keith Ray said. “These guys are all professionals.”
Blohowiak and the other organizers didn’t voice and favorites before the competition, but pointed to Campbell’s level of artistry when putting bricks into the mud, saying what he and the others are doing is nothing short of a work of art and they should be considered sculptors.
Though the five judges picked Campbell and Shelton as the victors, organizers made sure all competitors went home with products and prizes.
For more information about the event and the world championship event, check out their site at: www.specmixbricklayer500.com.
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