PROVO — With more than 60 collegiate teams vying for a national championship, teammates sport their school colors while planting and pivoting and assisting each other, surrounded by cheering supporters.
But this is a different kind of March Madness. Welcome to the National Collegiate Landscape Competition — the NCLC, not the NCAA, where competitors may end up with a sunburn, not a floor burn.
Brigham Young University is hosting the 2017 four-day event. Sponsored by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, the conferences and competition have drawn 61 schools and 750 students as well as 350 professional representatives from nearly 100 landscape, lawn care, tree care, irrigation and supplier companies.
The competition aspect includes 29 different events, including designing 3-D landscape models, repairing small engines, taking quizzes on anything from plants to pesticides, climbing trees in arboriculture efforts, and operating Bobcats and landscaping backhoes.
One of Friday’s featured events was a morning competition of hardscape installation, with competitors each arranging pavers to create a patio complete with a fire pit.
In the afternoon, three-member teams were given one of dozens of 15-foot-by-15-foot open-dirt plots dug in the intramural field west of LaVell Edwards Stadium. Teams were to follow a specific, identical design to plant a collection of trees, shrubs and flowers and lay out mulch, sod and other landscape materials. They were to accomplish it all in an hour and 50 minutes.
Judges — comprised of industry reps — evaluated during the competition, looking for safety, skill, planning and time efficiency. Afterward, they took to measuring the placement of items compared to actual design specifications.
During Saturday morning’s closing ceremonies of the four-day event, the top 10 schools will be announced, along with the first three finishers in each of the 29 events and a “superstar” award to the student scoring the best marks in a maximum of five individual events.
Last year, Michigan State won the team championship, and 81 scholarships totaling more than $100,000 were distributed to participating students.
But the event is much more than the competition, says third-year NCLC chairman Kory Beidler. Now the director of training and development for LandCare, a landscaping company based in Maryland, he has been involved in the event for more than a decade — and was once a student competitor himself.
The event also offers instructional conferences and workshops as well as career-networking with professionals in the multibillion-dollar industry for these students majoring in landscape management and landscape construction.
“It’s a lot more than just cutting grass,” said Beidler, listing related opportunities in design, water management, turf management and the like. “It can be an amazing career if you like to be outside, work with your hands and run your own business.”
The list of 61 participating schools includes major four-year universities to two-year community colleges. You can have the Auburns, Kansas States and Virginia Techs competing alongside several flavors of Cal Polys and the likes of the College of DuPage and Cayuga Community College.
And the networking and judging and associations with the sponsoring companies and industry reps means many graduating students can come away from the event with upwards of a half-dozen job opportunities.
With key contributions from BYU Grounds and BYU Conferences and Workshops, hosting the national event benefits the university’s landscape management program in several ways.
When BYU hosted the competition 11 years ago, 25 new students who happened to notice the events around campus joined the program.
Also, since no outside travel is involved in hosting, BYU has 64 students involved this year, compared to a typical out-of-state traveling group of 35 to 40, said Greg Jolley, BYU professor of landscape management.
“That’s a lot more who can be exposed to the networking and the career opportunities, more students to be engaged,” he said.
Jolley said BYU’s landscape program meshes well with the BYU Grounds crews that maintain the campus. Many of his students get hands-on experience with the part-time jobs, then add their academic training to enhance their career opportunities.
With backhoe trenches and landscape-competition pocking the intramural field from Friday afternoon’s competitions, BYU Grounds director Glenl Wear smiled as he surveyed the scene. He was happy for BYU properties to be used — even torn up and dug up — for the NCLC.
Yes, there will be work to be done in restoring the grounds. But Wear knew many of the 60-plus BYU landscape management students would be part of the BYU crews he would supervise next week, replacing sod, filling trenches and removing all indications of the four-day event on campus.