2022 Skills Challenge and Fastest Trowel On The Block Winner Interviews


Words and Photos: MASONRY Magazine

Editor's Note: In a special edition in our MASONRY MADNESS® recap, we sat down with the winners of the Skills Challenge and The MCAA's Fastest Trowel On The Block. Check out their experiences with the competitions and their plans for next year. We'd like to congratulate the winners again and thank them for taking the time to talk with us.

Frank Kocjancic - First-Year Skills Challenge Winner 

The MASONRY Magazine team repeatedly tried to reach Frank for an interview regarding his experience in the competition, but he could not be reached for comment. 

Mason Saunders - Second-Year Skills Challenge Winner 

MASONRY Magazine: How does it feel to win?

It felt good. It was a great day to have it, I woke up and felt great. I just went in there focused on my project and myself. I didn't know the plans until the day before the competition. So I went in there and had three hours to do this project, it was a pretty simple project. 

I had to look back at the plan the few times that I had everything highlighted of what I needed to do. I just laid the project in two hours and 15 minutes, and I had 45 minutes to work out and everything. So I was on time. I just had a great day that day and led to a good project.

M.M.: What did you think of the competition? 

There were a lot of good guys there. I think there were 12 or 13 contestants in my class. But it was tough. It came down to the wire and I just knew what I had to do in order to win out in Vegas. It was just a great day, and I'm very thankful for that. I had the opportunity to go out there and showcase and represent North Carolina.

M.M.: How did you prepare to compete?

I lay brick full-time now, I’ve been doing so for about six months or so. I've only practiced one time, and it was a national project. I didn't even finish within three hours. It was not a good wall at all. I did that two weeks before the competition. I was actually going to practice the Saturday before the following Wednesday of the competition. But we had winter weather coming in our area, so I had to leave Saturday morning to get out before then. 

So I only had a chance to practice once but I had a good feeling. I've been competing for almost six years, and I've been in about 15 or 20 competitions. — Somewhere in that vicinity. So, I knew what I had to do. I felt really good and was in a good position starting out. 

M.M.: Why did you want to become a mason?

It’s funny that you asked because my name is Mason. I've always grown up around construction. My dad is a carpenter and he does smaller remodel jobs, he and his dad built houses for 20 years, then he worked for the school system for 10 ½, and then he went back out on his own. So I've been around the construction industry my whole life and I was about seven or eight when my parents had a patio that was done out of brick. 

So I was out there one day, thinking I was hot stuff having the name Mason and I was laying brick and it was a sight to see. When I stood back and looked at what I had accomplished, I really thought I was hot stuff. Ever since my freshman year of high school when I took my first masonry class with Ryan Shaver. I fell in love with it and I continued to build off of that since then and everything has just fallen into place.

M.M.: Do you have any family in the industry?

My dad and grandpa, both know how to lay brick, but they never did it full time. 

M.M.: What does the future hold for you?

I’ll be building off of what I've already have established and continue to grow, get better. I like seeing stuff come from the ground up. I think once you start something and really enjoy it, you have to keep going. It's not like a start-to-finish kind of thing, you get started and keep going. This is a passion for me, it's one of my hobbies, I don't classify it as work anymore. That's just how much I love it. 

Seeing other people grow too, I like to share my skills and stuff with other people, showing them how to do different things and continue to keep the trade strong. I think that's the key nowadays in our country. Masonry is one of the biggest trades worldwide and I think keeping it strong and bringing up the young bucks telling them a little bit about it. Just like me when I was young, I saw it and thought it was cool. So I think when people see something like that they tend to want to have a future in it and I think it's awesome.

Josh Rehme - Third-Year Skills Challenge Winner

MASONRY Magazine: How does it feel to win?

It feels pretty great to have won, I feel like I’ve worked hard to be at the skill I’m at today. So, it felt good to see where I stand with the other apprentices around the country.

M.M.: What did you think of the competition? 

The competition was great, everything was set up nice, everyone was nice and was there to see who was the best with good sportsmanship.

M.M.: How did you prepare to compete?

I basically prepared just as best as I could, I know it was a pretty big deal to stay relaxed and focused. So, I treated it as another day at work, went to bed early, and got ready to go when I woke up. 

M.M.: Why did you want to become a mason?

I went to a trade school program through my high school, and got a job, and my apprenticeship through that and just went from there.

M.M.: Do you have any family in the industry?

I’m the first in my family to be a mason.

M.M.: What does the future hold for you?

Hopefully, the future will be nice and treat me well. I’m not expecting much but to just keep going. 

Roberto Cimental - Fastest Trowel on the Block Winner 

MASONRY Magazine: Why did you want to become a mason?

Actually, I wanted to become an architect! I'm a second-generation mason. My dad has been a mason for almost 40 years now and I remember he use to take to me to work with him since I was about 11 years old. I would work with my dad every summer and some weekends because I had to go to school. 

I don’t really know why I became a mason. I've played sports my whole life and I saw blocklaying sort of like playing a sport and getting paid to play. This was way before I knew about the Fastest Trowel On The Block competition! 

I enjoy cutting the mortar on a block that I just laid without even hitting it with my trowel and seeing how straight it is. It is like those oddly satisfying videos you see on YouTube, except I do it for five or six hours a day. 

M.M.: What did you think of the competition?

The competition is amazing. It is a lot of fun, but most of all it's an adrenaline rush like no other. I mean I’m used to laying about 600 blocks on my 5-hour workdays, but to lay 135 blocks in 20 minutes is also crazy! (I've laid 141 blocks at the competition before)

M.M.: How did you prepare to compete?

We prepared for the competition by practicing our 20-minute routine three times. I practice every day at work though tweaking things here and there. I also paid attention to detail on what works for the competition, what doesn't because regular block laying at work and the routine for the competition are not the same. I also watched videos of my practices a lot of times so that I could fix my mistakes.

M.M.: What went through your head when they called your name as the winner?

I had many emotions going through my head. I felt very happy but also relieved. To win this competition has been a goal of mine for many years now and about a million blocks later I finally did it! No joke (laughs). I was happy for my family but especially for my dad who taught me how to work and because in his younger days he would have probably won this event if he had known about it. 

I'm just glad I was able to put my family’s name up there as being the best blocklayer in the world. This competition has never been about the money for us, it’s about the pride we have in our work. Not many people can say they're the best in the world at something. I was relieved because I've known in my mind and heart for many years that I'm the best at what I do but for one reason or another I could never get first place. 

M.M.: Will you be back next year?

I’m still thinking about it. I always said that once I won the block competition I would switch over to the brick competition. I think I would be the first to ever win both competitions. I have to think about it though because I haven't reached my full potential with the block competition, there's a lot of room for improvement! 

We'll see! I want to thank my family, my wife, my kids, my parents, my siblings, and my cousins for always believing in me and showing me support whether it be at practice or at the actual competitions. I also want to give a special thanks to my cousin Mark Diaz who was my tender, I couldn't have done it without him. I also want to thank the MCAA for having this event every year and letting us showcase our skills. 

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