2019 OPS CHALLENGE REGIONAL RESULTS
If you were to speak to any member of the six teams competing in this year’s Ops Challenge at the 2019 Florida Water Resources Conference, chances are you’d hear them say how thankful they are to be a part of the challenge and the great camaraderie the event fosters. With two newcomers and a few veteran teams participating in the event’s 27th year, there was plenty of competitive spirit to go around, and we’ve got the 2019 Ops Challenge results.
Known as the “Olympics of the Wastewater Industry,” the Ops Challenge follows teams of four as they compete in a series of events, including Process Control, Laboratory, Maintenance, Collections, and Safety in an effort to secure a spot at the national competition at WEFTEC. All five events are representative of the skillset an Operator should have. Participating in the event also requires coming up with a clever group name. Returning teams included Positive Influents from Destin, St. Petersburg’s Dirty Birds, JEA Utilities’ Fecal Matters, the Orange County Outlaws, as well as newcomers Sludge Soldiers from Tallahassee, and Polk County’s Biowizards.
Brad Hayes, Ops Challenge Director for eight years and member of the committee for 16 years, has worked alongside Chris Fasnacht, longest sitting Chair of the Ops Challenge committee for the past 13 years, to develop the Florida Regional Ops Challenge into the respected event that it is today.
“When I first got involved 16 years ago, Florida wasn’t very well established,” said Hayes. “There were only two teams back then and no sponsors. We’ve gathered more participation as well as sponsorship support, because that’s what sends these guys to Nationals.”
With Ops Challenge event numbers down overall across the country due to a variety of reasons including a retiring workforce, high maintenance demands in local service areas, and other concerns, Florida is one of the few areas that hasn’t seen a decline in participation.
“The challenges were held at the back of the hall when I first started, and we’ve successfully worked to make it the central event of the conference,” reflected Fasnacht. “I think it’s a great development tool for employees and for guys to get exposure. Management and directors are well represented at this conference and this is a chance for the guys to come out and meet other people and groups and to showcase their skill.”
JEA Utilities’ team, Fecal Matters, returned for their 5th competition, hoping to make it to Nationals for the third year in a row, having made it to Nationals in both 2017 and 2018. Mike Fowler, Utilities Pipe Fitter Crew Leader for JEA and Fecal Matters coach, co-founded JEA’s original team in 2014.
“Our first year was terrible, but we won the team spirit award,” reminisced Fowler. “It’s good to see how we have evolved. I love [the Challenge] because of the way we can showcase what we do out in the field.”
Jason Jolly, JEA’s team captain for the second year in a row, commented on how he appreciates being able to have the opportunity to make friends with utilities from new places.
“We help each other out and still complete against each other,” said Jolly. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Robby Addy, JEA team member for the past two years, enjoys the competitiveness and the camaraderie.
“It’s nice to get out of the field, meet a lot of new people and contacts, and you learn a lot about the business,” said Addy.
JEA performed well in all five events, coming in second with a score of 436.07 in this year’s Challenge.
Team Positive Influents from Destin Water Users, Inc. (DWU) is one of the smallest and only private organization competing in their third Ops Challenge, representing a total of 65 employees. Lead by Logan Law, Destin’s Wastewater Operations Specialist, the team’s goal was to come in first in this year’s Challenge after narrowly missing Nationals in 2018 by coming in third in last year’s regional competition.
“This is an awesome event with a good group of people, great for networking,” said Logan. “We’re competing against bigger cities with bigger resources, and sometimes we have to use our imagination when training.”
After coming in first in both the Process Control and Laboratory events, Destin’s Positive Influents met their 2019 goal and took first place overall in this year’s Challenge.
Polk County newcomers, the Biowizards, participated for the first time this year, and trained with the Orange County Outlaws to prepare for the events.
“Our guys worked really hard over the last few weeks,” said Biowizards coach, Chuck Nichols. “If it hadn’t been for Orange County, we wouldn’t have been competitive, we would have just been learning.”
Polk County came in fifth place after performing well in both the Maintenance and Safety categories.
Orange County Outlaws took third, while St. Petersburg’s Dirty Birds took fourth. Polk County’s Biowizards and Tallahassee’s Sludge Soldiers took fifth and sixth, respectively. JEA will continue on to their third Nationals Challenge while Destin attends Nationals for the first time, both teams representing Florida at WEFTEC in Chicago this September.