Professional masons, students from West Rowan win bricklaying battle in Gold Hill
Published 10:14 am Saturday, October 30, 2021
By Natalie Anderson
GOLD HILL — Professional masons from Union County will compete to be the nation’s best bricklayer in Las Vegas in January after laying more than 700 bricks Friday during the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 North Carolina Regional Series.
Additionally, a bricklayer and masonry tender from West Rowan High School placed first in the junior competition.
The regional bricklaying battle event is one of 20 across the nation. It tests participants on their speed, skill and stamina by challenging them to construct the best and tallest brick wall, which measures 26 feet long, with as few errors as possible in one hour. Wriston McGee and his tender Haren McGee, who both work with McGee Brothers in Monroe, beat out 12 other teams Friday, earning the title of the state’s best bricklayer, with a chance at the national title on Jan. 19, 2022, during the World of Concrete Expo.
World Championship prizes total more than $125,000 and include a new Ford F-250 truck, a Kubota all-terrain vehicle, power tools and other prizes.
Wriston said his goal going into Friday’s competition was to “lay 700 bricks and see what happens.” He added that the biggest challenge is minimizing fatigue toward the end and keeping bricks straight. To prepare for Las Vegas, Wriston and Haren plan to practice laying bricks for an hour in a similar manner to Friday’s contest.
January will mark the third time Wriston has qualified for the national competition, though he’s never placed. This will be Haren’s second trip and first time working alongside Wriston.
In addition to a spot in the national competition, Wriston and Haren won $500 and other prizes after laying 745 bricks. A group of five judges based their decision on nine quality points, deducting points for each mistake.
“These people are the heartbeat of this nation,” said event host Tom Clark. “I want these people as my neighbor. They work hard.”
Second place winners include Zach and Grayson McGee, also of McGee Brothers, with a total score of 598 bricks and a prize of $400. In third place was Grant Helms and Justice Isenhour of Helms Masonry in Concord with 571 bricks and a cash prize of $350. David Kelly and Nick Campbell placed fourth with 552 bricks and a $350 cash prize.
Grant Helms is a recent graduate of West Rowan who won the state Skills USA competition in 2019 and the Sam McGee Memorial Masonry Contest in Midland in May with a perfect score.
Among the purposes of the regional competition, now in its 20th year, is to push the industry and spark interest for a new generation of masons. Thanks to a partnership with Spec Mix and the North Carolina Mason Contractors Association, Friday was also a Masonry Education Day for more than 370 masonry students across 16 high schools in North Carolina. Local contractors and product specialists set up booths to provide education and networking opportunities.
Workforce Development and Training Coordinator Ryan Shaver of the state masonry contractor’s association said there are 101 high schools across the state with masonry training programs, which exceeds any other state. Shaver works directly with schools to create programs. He said it’s a way to excite them about a possible career in masonry, especially since the average age of masons in North Carolina is around 47, he said.
Twelve teams of students also competed in an abbreviated version of the main competition for 20 minutes. First place winners for the junior competition include Anderson Pruitt and his tender, Peyton Summerall, who both attend West Rowan High School. The team’s wall included 257 bricks with no deductions calculated.
Pruitt, a senior, has competed three other times, but for Summerall, who’s also a senior, this year’s event was a first. Pruitt and Summerall said the competition was fun but tough. Keeping the bricks on bond and lined properly was the biggest challenge.
Pruitt said he’s been working in the masonry field for three years now and plans to pursue a career after school. Summerall said he is considering the career.
“Definitely take the class in high school. It’ll teach you a lot,” Summerall said.
Second place in the junior contest included Nathaniel Myers and Tad Johnson of North Stanly High School, followed by Annayell Dioniso and Leslie Maldonado of Columbus Career and College Academy in third; Ethan Moose and Elijah Horne of Mt. Pleasant High School in fourth and Mason Ridenhour and Wyatt Trexler of East Rowan High School in fifth.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.