Elgin, Ill. Local 117 member Greg Anliker raises the trophy after finishing first in the individual pro competition for the third time in four years at the Ideal National Championships.

Update: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the qualifying rounds for this year’s IDEAL National Championships have been postponed until April 13, 2020. Visit IdealNationals.com for further updates as they become available.


In what has become a yearly tradition, IBEW members dominated the competition at the fourth annual Ideal National Championships, which draws union and nonunion electricians from across North America and is considered the top competition of its kind for inside wiremen.

Anliker accepts congratulations after winning the individual pro competition at the
Ideal National Championships.
Minneapolis Local 292 members Jacob Theonnes and Angela Bissonnette-Pena, second and third from left, accept the winning certificate after winning the student competition at the Ideal National Championships in November. They were joined by Minneapolis JATC Training Director Derrick Atkins, Ideal Non-Executive Vice Chair Meghan Juday and Ideal Senior Vice President and General Manager Doug Sanford.
Aurora, Ill., Local 461 member Keith Runkle, left, and Somonauk, Ill., Local 701 member Clay Noga hold enlarged copies of winning checks after a first-place finish in the contractor competition at the Ideal National Championships. Ideal Non-Executive Vice Chair Meghan Juday and Senior Vice President and General Manager Doug Sanford also are on the podium.
Watertown, N.Y., Local 910 member Benjamin Budd, center, finished second in the apprentice competition. Juday and Sanford stand beside him.
Noga on the podium after finishing third in the individual pro competition. Juday and Sanford stand beside him.

Portsmouth, Ohio, Local 575 member Jordan Finfrock finished first in the apprentice competition, leading an IBEW sweep of the top three places. He was followed by Watertown, N.Y., Local 910 member Benjamin Budd and Le Sueur, Minn., Local 343's Marty Evans.

Noga joined with Aurora, Ill., Local 461 member Keith Runkle to win the contractor challenge, which pits teams from a single employer against one another. Minneapolis JATC students and Minneapolis Local 292 members Jacob Theonnes and Angela Bissonnette-Penna won the student competition. The finals were held Nov. 7-9 at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

"This has become an annual highlight for me, and I congratulate all the winners and participants who represented our brotherhood," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "Their success reaffirms what we and our signatory contractors already knew: IBEW electricians are the best in the industry. I'm honored to represent the men and women proving it."

Contestants must advance through state competitions before qualifying for nationals, where they complete a series of electrical tasks over two days. Speed is one of the criteria, but less emphasis was put on it than in the past, Anliker noted; it only comprised about 10% of the score in 2019. The rest was based on quality and safety.

Anliker walked away the big winner, earning the $75,000 first prize and continuing his dominance of the event. He finished first in the pro competition in Ideal's initial competition in 2016. He followed that up by finishing second in 2017 before the first-place finishes during the last two years.

"I honestly thought they wouldn't let me win anymore," he said with a laugh. "I figured they would just yank off a wire breaker so something wouldn't work. They put a lot of money out there, and I'm sure they would like to give it to a lot of people instead of just one guy."

But Anliker still earned the top prize, which he credits to his IBEW training and habits instilled while working in the field during a nearly 20-year career. He lives in Elgin, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago, and usually serves as a foreman on large-scale commercial projects.

"By nature, I am a pretty hard worker," he said. "When you get to the competition, you see some guys jumping around and flying around. I just take it easy and do it methodically like I do at work and I still get finished before guys jumping around like a maniac."

Fellow Illinoisan Noga earned $10,000 with his third-place finish. Like Anliker, he's employed by signatory contractor Kellenberger Electric.

"My philosophy in my 16 years in the trades is that you have to be good before you can be fast," Noga said. "You can run around like a chicken with its head cut off and look like you're flying. But someone working at a moderate pace next to you can get it done quicker because they're making every step count."

While it may not be apparent to outsiders, the competition itself is a draining experience, Noga said. Competitors have to eat right throughout the three days and make sure they get enough rest. Like athletes, he tries to stay in good physical shape throughout the year.

It was an even longer competition for him because he combined with Aurora, Ill., Local 461 member Keith Runkle to win the contractor's competition. Each man earned $20,000 and Kellenberger Electric received a Ram commercial van. Noga combined with Anliker and Elgin, Ill., Local 117 member Will Barnett to win the professional team category in 2018. The name of the competition was changed and teams were cut from three members to two after that.

"It's a huge physical and mental commitment," Noga said. "If you do it, you have to go all in."

Noga worked a team with Anliker and Barnett in last year's contractor competition, but this year's changes required him to break off from that team and join with Runkle for 2019.

"I just followed Clay's lead and we both went about doing what we do every day," Runkle said. "I couldn't really point to one reason or another as to why we did so well. We apparently made fewer mistakes than everyone else."

The future is bright for the IBEW if the results of the apprentice competition are any indication. Finfrock said his goal was to improve on the previous year's 18th-place finish. He did that in a big way, taking home $30,000 for winning the title.

That money allowed him to splurge a little more on Christmas gifts this year, particularly for his wife and 4-year-old son. He also put some of it toward a home he and his wife recently purchased in northern Kentucky.

"It was exciting," he said. "It still hasn't really set in. Everyone you've looked up to the past few years watching the competition, you still don't feel like that kind of person.

"Getting a little bit of experience and knowing what it's like when you go down there helps. It's not like going to work every day. You've got all the pressure of everyone looking at you. Each competition, the hour segments feel like a full day of work. You're hurting and it takes a lot out of you."

He was followed by Budd, who earned $20,000 for his second-place finish; and Evans, who pocketed $10,000 for finishing third.

For Evans, it was further proof he made the right choice by pursuing an apprenticeship. He has a bachelor's degree in biology from Bemidji State (Minn.) University, but opted for a career in the trades after he realized he would need graduate-level education to make better use of his biology training.

"I don't think I would be where I am if I didn't go to college," said Evans, who lives in Cannon Falls, Minn., about a 45-minute drive southeast of Minneapolis. "That helped me mature as a person. But I'm definitely happy with what I am doing now."

Evans improved on an eighth-place finish in last year's Ideal competition. He is on track to top out and earn journeyman status later this summer.

"Minnesota is a really hard place to keep qualifying from," he said.

Fellow Minnesotans Thoennes and Bissonnette-Penna won $20,000 and earned the Minneapolis JATC $10,000 by winning the school competition.

Sometimes called "the Super Bowl of the craft," the 2020 Ideal Nationals will be held Nov. 3-5 at Music City Hall in Nashville, Tenn. Electricians have to advance through state competitions to quality. Visit IdealNationals.com to register.

Ideal was founded in 1916 and has been a leading maker of electrician's tools and supplies ever since. Its headquarters are in Sycamore, Ill.