IBEW members once again were top performers at the 2021 Ideal Nationals, a hands-on skills-demonstration competition for union and nonunion electrical workers held one week before Christmas in Nashville, Tenn.
"These wins year after year are a real testament to the high quality, continuing training our union apprentices and journeymen receive,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Congratulations to these electrical workers and thank you for the pride you’ve brought to every man and woman in the IBEW.”
As in past years, there were categories at the Nashville finals for apprentice-level electricians to compete against their peers as well as for professionals to go up against fellow professionals. A new third category this year was a “pro-am” team challenge, where a seasoned electrical worker was paired with a student or apprentice.
Taking the top spot in this updated pro-am category was team “Risky Business,” which found journeyman wireman Will Barnett of Elgin, Ill., Local 117 paired with second-year Chicago Local 134 apprentice Chris Brieschke.
“Will and I had met at a qualifying event,” said Brieschke, who approached Barnett about teaming up for a pro-am run. “Nashville was only the third time we had met up.”
The field of 142 finalists gathered at the Music City Center was what remained of more than 32,000 electricians who started out competing in knockout rounds across the U.S. Some of these trials took place at venues hosted by the IBEW or its National Electrical Contractors Association partners.
“Chris was looking for a professional to be paired with,” said Barnett, an experienced wireman who was happy to oblige the eager apprentice. And because Barnett and Brieschke live a quick drive from one another, they were able to get together and strategize.
“We even spent one eight-hour day at Will’s house just learning how one another worked,” said Brieschke, whose drive and work ethic helped him graduate from high school early so he could get a jump start on his IBEW apprenticeship.
“I’ve learned a lot in the small shops, too,” he said. “They taught me so much; they pushed me.”
“We spent a lot of time talking strategy,” said Barnett, who has competed in every Ideal tournament since the annual event was created. “He was my prep king. We knew we were never going to succeed without a plan.”
“Will did a lot of the work,” Brieschke said. “I just tried to make it easier for him.”
As the top prize winners, Team Risky Business picked up $40,000, plus $5,000 for Barnett’s contractor to spend on Ideal tools, plus another $5,000 in “Ideal Cash” for Brieschke’s Local 134 training center.
“You can always attribute our wins to the IBEW,” Barnett said. “You go in not knowing what to expect, but you’re ready for anything.”
Garnering a third-place honorable mention in the pro-am category was a team from Toledo, Ohio, Local 8 consisting of members Pat Cryan and Arthur Heudecker.
Competitors’ family members and friends cheered as the participants demonstrated their electrical skills in rounds featuring a commercial pull box prep and installation, a commercial panel installation, a three-way switch installation and a full panel change-out.
In the apprentice competition, coming out on top was Michael Zurenda of Binghamton, N.Y., Local 325.
“I just did it the exact same as I do it every day,” said Zurenda, who also took home a $40,000 first-place prize. “You have to be ready for anything — sometimes you work two to three jobs a day, other times you’re on big commercial jobs.”
Zurenda, who is in his fifth year of apprenticeship, said he got interested in electrical work because of a family friend who’s an electrical inspector.
“I always try to be the best professional possible,” he said. While he has learned a lot as an apprentice, “I’m a very hands-on person and learned a lot in the field.”
Waterloo, Iowa, Local 288 apprentice David Hand took third place in that category, winning $10,000.
Another familiar IBEW face took the stage to accept third-place honors in the professional category: repeat competitor and frequent winner Greg Anliker of Elgin Local 117.
“This year, I actually think the apprentices had harder competitions than the professionals,” said Anliker, who received a $10,000 prize.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 competition was a smaller, invitational-style tournament. The December event, though, marked a return to the more familiar competition, complete with lights, cameras and cheering sections. And this time, it had a more real-life feel to it, Anliker said.
“We reused some of our boards for multiple rounds,” said the 24-year journeyman wireman. “If you made a mess in the round before, you had to deal with it.” Keeping up on his education and code updates helped a great deal, he added.
“Brothers Barnett and Brieschke exemplify the best in IBEW training, two men from two separate local unions coming together as one cohesive team,” said Sixth District International Vice President David J. Ruhmkorff, whose jurisdiction includes Illinois. “They made our district proud, as did Brother Anliker as he continues to excel in this competition year after year.”
Founded in 1916, Ideal Industries has grown to become a global, family-owned electrical, lighting and infrastructure business. Ideal Electrical established the national championship in 2016 to highlight the professional trades as a rewarding, in-demand career path and showcase the skills of electricians.
“It is more imperative than ever that we attract more men and women to the electrical industry to meet the swiftly increased rise in demand,” said Carmen Cardillo, general manager of Ideal Electrical U.S. and Mexico. “The Ideal National Championship is one of many initiatives designed by Ideal to attract young talent to the skilled trades and the strong community that makes up the industry, and highlight just how hands-on, mentally challenging and rewarding a career path it can be.”
Those who couldn’t be on-site to watch the show in Nashville in December — or those competitors who wish to relive their experiences — can stream coverage of the competition via Fox Sports 2. The show ran on the cable network on Feb. 6.