Winners Beat Out 58,000 Competitors to Take Home Big Bucks in Ideal National Championship

Ideal group image
Professional and student electricians showed their skills in the Ideal Industries National Championships.

It was an incredibly tough competition in this year’s Ideal National Championship, held Nov. 7–9, but the winners took home big bucks for their trouble. Qualifying rounds across the country drew one of the largest pools of participants in the championship’s history, but in the end just 11 individuals were crowned the competition’s winners, receiving more than $600,000 in prizes. 

Created in 2016 to unify the electrical industry, the competition has grown substantially since its inaugural year. In the event’s infancy, total participants would range in the tens of thousands. 

This year, 58,223 professional electricians and students/apprentices, as well as 23 professional and 102 student teams, competed in 1,591 qualifying round events across 50 states and Canada from April to October to determine who would compete in the weekend event at Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Fla. 

Split into four categories—individual professional, individual student/apprentice, contractor challenge and student challenge—the National Championship included 69 professionals, 12 professional teams, 67 students/apprentice individuals and 12 student/apprentice teams from the United States and Canada. For the first time in the competition’s history, Australia and China were also represented, each sending a professional to compete. 

“The amount of involvement has grown, including family participation,” said Doug Sanford, senior vice president/general manager of non-lighting businesses at Ideal Industries.

The teams began the weekend on Thursday night with a one-hour competition. Six professional and six student teams were given pre-built wooden structures like small houses and all of the tools necessary to complete the job. 

Before each competition, the participants were briefed on the work they would perform, but they were not permitted to look up any information and had to rely on their previous skills and knowledge of safety measures. Students and professionals completed the same work, though students worked with PVC while the professionals worked with metal conduit. 

Clay Noga of Somonauk, Ill. and Keith Runkle of Bolingbrook, Ill. won the contractor challenge for professional teams. Each received $20,000, while $20,000 in Idealcash and a commercial van went to the contractor they work for. 

In the school team challenge, Angela Bissonnette-Penna of Hugo, Minn. and Jake Thoennes of Lino Lakes, Minn., won $20,000. Their trade school, Minneapolis Electrical JATC, received $10,000 in Idealcash, and provided five first-year scholarships to the school and complete tool kits for the scholarship winners. 

“We hope to give back to and elevate the electrical trade and want others to understand how great it is,” Sanford said.

The electricians on teams had to work together to complete their tasks.
The electricians on the teams had to work together to complete their tasks.

On Nov. 8, the professionals and students competed in two heats each and were asked to work on a single wall for 55 minutes. Competitors were given specifications of what they had to accomplish, and before the competition they couldn’t touch their tools. 

Competitors in every event had to use NEC standards and know manufacturer specifications. They were also judged on safety and workmanship, among other technical requirements. They could only rely on their own experience.

“The scenario was challenging. It was something I have done before, but I was not as proficient, so it was not as clean as I would have liked,” said Hiram Pendergrass from Palmer, Alaska, a professional competitor.

For Pendergrass, there were many benefits to competing in the event, including meeting other electricians and picking up tips and skills from them to benefit the entire industry. “I also like meeting other electricians and having the opportunity to bring things back to the apprentices I instruct to make everyone stronger,” he said. He also said there was an emphasis on training and making the current and future generations better and safer electricians.

Hiram Pendergrass, a professional electrician, was one of the competitors working for the grand prize.
Hiram Pendergrass was one of the professional electricians who demonstrated their skills.

Greg Anliker, Elgin, Ill., won the professional competition for the third year in a row, receiving $75,000. Seth Agnew, Linn Creek, Mo., won $25,000 second place, and in third place, Clay Noga took home $10,000.

For the first time, Ideal recognized an international champion. Tom Matic of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, won a Ram pickup truck.

In the apprentice/student individual competition, competitors worked for 45 minutes on walls similar to those in the professional category with similar work to perform. With Ideal tools and PVC in hand, the students showed off their knowledge. Jordan Finfrock of Flatwoods, Ky., ultimately took home $30,000 for individual first place prize. Benjamin Budd, Potsdam, N.Y. and Marty Evans, Cannon Falls, Minn., won $20,000 and $10,000 in second and third place respectively.

The apprentices completed similar tasks to the professionals in their competition.

“My favorite part of this event is getting to know the families and the people who work in the trade. This event recognizes each electrician and the efforts they make every day. We get to celebrate being an electrician. This is our way of giving back to the community,” Sanford said.

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