JC Home Builders Association stages Battle of the Build

Students from David Crockett present their outdoor grill table to the judges. From left, E. Dugger, N. Russell, Z. Hinkle, G. Riddle, B. Moore, R. Hall and E. Dill.

By Dave Ongie, News Editor

By all accounts, David Isaacs was a driving force behind making the Battle of the Build a reality this year. But there were plenty of times along the way when even Isaacs wondered whether the annual workforce development outreach event put on by the Johnson City Area Home Builders Association would come to fruition.

“It all stems back to the months trying to plan it, during the most pivotal times of the pandemic when most shutdowns were happening,” Isaacs said. “It was very hard to get anybody to commit to something, especially in schools.”

But Isaacs and the rest of the Battle of the Build committee forged ahead, optimistic that the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines would allow the sliver of opportunity everyone needed to stage the event. Of course, the event would look nothing like the 2020 competition, which was staged less than a month before the country was shut down by the pandemic.

A plan for the 2021 event evolved over the course of a series of Zoom meetings, and it was ambitious. Instead of holding the event at one central location, a group of judges would spend two days on a bus traveling to all 10 high schools participating in the contest. The event would then culminate with an awards dinner at the Carnegie Hotel.

Science Hill students show off the swing they made for the Battle of the Build competition. Standing, from left, Karter Richmond, Lucas Faulkner, Dawson Miller, Adam Nivens, Gavin Nobles, Remy Conway, Neal Stone, and Camden Davis. Seated, from left, John Richardson, Tyler Nelson. Photo by Collin Brooks

Even after the event wrapped up with a successful awards program on the night of April 23, Isaacs still had a hard time believing they had pulled it off.

“Seeing it happen was amazing,” he said. “It’s nothing short of a miracle that schools were able to enter something, we able to judge it and then were able to have this wonderful awards ceremony tonight.”

Attracting a top-notch panel of judges was one of the first steps in making the event possible, and five individuals stepped up to take part in the unique experience. Greg Ugalde, the immediate past chair of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Home Builders came all the way from Connecticut to be a judge. Likewise, former chairman Randy Noel and his wife came all the way from Louisiana.

James Reid, president of the Home Builders Association of Tennessee, Terry McBath, president of the Maryville Alcoa HBA, and Dan Mitchell, the 2019 HBA Tennessee Builder of the Year, also signed up to judge the event.

From left, Battle of the Build judges James Reid, Terry McBath, Dan Mitchell, Greg Ugalde, Randy Noel and Battle of the Build committee member David Isaacs with a lectern built by the team at Daniel Boone High School. Photo by Dave Ongie

But without the tenacity and creativity of the high school students, there would have been nothing for the judges to see. Many of the schools competing in the event fluctuated back and forth between virtual, in-person and hybrid schedules. In the midst of all that, students had to plan and execute their projects while facing the same challenge every contractor is struggling with at the moment – finding materials that would fit inside their budget.

As every judge stepped to the podium at the awards dinner, they marveled at how the competitors answered the bell and managed to produce high-quality products in the face of adversity. They also told the students about the opportunity that lies ahead for young people who possess the craftsmanship, toughness and resiliency they displayed during the battle of the build.

“In our industry, we have 350,000 job openings as I stand here tonight,” Ugalde said during his keynote address.

To a lot of folks in the ballroom, that sounded a whole lot like opportunity knocking.


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