Contest "Taps" Water Industry"s Competition Spirit

Aug. 1, 2008
The Birmingham Water Works Tapping Team has already begun practicing for next year's AWWA Pipe Tapping competition.

The Birmingham Water Works Tapping Team has already begun practicing for next year's AWWA Pipe Tapping competition. And to provide them with a little extra motivation – a target to shoot for – a sign from Columbus, Ohio, is hanging on the wall, according to Jeff Standridge, former coach of the Birmingham team and currently head judge for AWWA's National Pipe Tapping Contest.

Top Row: Todd Stewart, Jeff Jenkins Bottom Row: Greta Theadgill, Mark Kirkland, Jerry E. Storey, Jr., Johnny Bittles, Ralph Abbott
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Only a half second separated the top three finishers in the men's finals of this year's Tapping Contest, held in June during the American Water Works Association's Annual conference & exhibition.

The team from Columbus Water earned the first place trophy for the second year in a row with a time of 1:22.90. Coached by Mark Eppach, the team included setter Bruce Farley, cranker Patrick Crumley, and Michael Spriggs on copper.

Coming in second were the Four Jokers, representing the California – Nevada Section, at 1:23.31, followed by the team from Birmingham (Ala.) Water Works with a time of 1:23.44.

The Sassy Taps from Portland, OR, won the ladies competition. Taking second was the Nitro Bits from the Pacific Northwest Section, with third going to the women's team from San Antonio.

"This year's was a pretty good competition. It was very close," Standridge said. "You're talking about hundredths of a second that separated the competition."

As head judge for the national contest, Standridge has had to distance himself from the Birmingham team during the competition and even when they're training. That's a bit of a challenge since he's worked for the Birmingham Water Works for nearly 30 years and been involved with the utility's tapping team since 1987.

In the past 12 years the Birmingham team has not finished outside of the top five and has won seven national titles and four world titles. This year, the team had the fastest raw score in the competition but were hurt by two, four-second penalties that knocked them back to third place.

"It's just the way luck swings," Standridge said philosophically.

The pipe tapping contest continues to be a popular event at the AWWA, with teams competing from across the country.

"Not much has changed over the years," Standridge said. "When I first started out it was all about going fast. Over the years we've tweaked the rules to correspond to the safety part of the job."

One goal in recent years is to focus on sportsmanship and keeping it clean.

"A lot of people come out to watch the competition and we want to keep it clean and family oriented," Standridge said. "We also want them (the competitors) to take care of the equipment – use controlled set downs on the equipment – treat it like you would out in the field.

"We're always trying to make the competition a little better. As the head judge, I've got an open door policy. I want people's feedback. If it's broke and I don't know what it is, I can't fix it," he said.

While it's a competitive event, the tapping contest is also about making friends and building relationships, Standridge said.

"The guys you're competing with become friends," Standridge said. "After the competition's over with, we drink a beer with them, share a meal. It's not just a one or two day event, it's something you carry the rest of your life. You meet some great people."

Of course, it's also about bragging rights, he said.

"It does boost moral around the company," he said. "If you come in number one, it gives you a sense a pride and gives your company a sense of pride."

Having a utility that supports its team is important. Birmingham provides a place for its team to practice and also pays their way when traveling for the competition.

"Birmingham Water Works has always been behind the Tapping Team and the Top Ops team," Standridge said. "The board members and management have been great about this."

"Birmingham is not only known for tapping. We've been in the top five for the cleanest water," he said.

The Birmingham Water Works was recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year as the winner of the 2007 Safe Drinking Water Act Excellence Award for Region 4. This is the EPA's highest honor for a water system. The Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) won in the category of Large Surface Water System serving more than 10,000 customers.

The district was also recognized by as having some of the cleanest water in the country. Editors of the online magazine ranked Birmingham fifth among the 10 cities cited for clean water.

This is the second year in a row that Columbus captured the top slot in the national tapping competition.

"Columbus has always been strong competitors and last year it came together for them, and then again this year," Standridge said. "When you're on top of your game, you're on top of your game."

You're also on everyone's radar.

"When you win, there's always the pressure to stay on top. Everyone's coming for you," Standridge said. "And when you lose, these guys beat themselves up more than anyone else does. They're always striving to be number one."

And that's why Birmingham snagged the Columbus sign and pinned it on the wall.

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