College game day for future landscape pros

March 28, 2019 -  By

For participants of the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, this is bigger than any college bowl game.

John Deere 30G in action at NCLC. (Photo: Seth Jones)

John Deere 30G in action at NCLC. (Photo: Seth Jones)

Early on in the 43rd annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC), Roger Phelps, Corporate Communications manager for Stihl, laid it out for the 844 students packed in Colorado State University’s Lincoln Center.

“I challenge all of you,” Phelps said, “build your career network … and watch your career grow.”

And with that message, students from 64 different schools marched out of the building, ready to test their mettle — and make those connections — with their fellow students and industry partners. Hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, the 2019 edition of the event took place last week in Fort Collins, Colo. Students are tested in everything from diagnosing plant problems to their deftness digging a hole with a John Deere 30G Excavator.

Brigham Young University (Provo) took top honors this year, and Frank Vareska of Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, took the top overall score. For a complete list of school rankings click here, and for the individual results click here.

Brooke Evans, a K-State senior in horticulture production, was in her fourth and final year attending NCLC. She will work as a greenhouse grower following graduation, but hopes to move into sales for a landscape company after gaining experience. Evans says the camaraderie is the best part of NCLC, not just with her fellow students, but the industry partners who support the event.

“I love it every year — it’s good bonding between the teams, we always feel closer after we leave,” she says. “You learn so much about the industry, and you gain so much respect for the industry through this event … (the industry is) much more dimensional than you’d think it would be.”

Happily, it’s not just the young students who feel energized by the event, but also those with more … experience. Industry veteran John Janes of Caterpillar has attended NCLC for the last six years and says the event is motivating for him and his colleagues.

“The motivation that the young folks bring to us, ready to come into the industry — I’ve been out in the industry for over 30 years — It’s so motivating, it’s almost like being on vacation.”

The skid-steer challenge course, sponsored by Caterpillar. (Photo: Seth Jones)

The skid-steer challenge course, sponsored by Caterpillar. (Photo: Seth Jones)

Caterpillar sponsored the skid-steer challenge course. Students were timed on how quickly they could navigate an obstacle course and change buckets. The fastest time was in the seven minute range; the slowest was 15 minutes.

Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, was in attendance to market his business and get exposure among students who might not be familiar with his Oregon-based landscape management company. Though he wasn’t actively looking to ask anyone to relocate to Oregon, he says you just never know what might happen with a chance encounter at NCLC.

“One of our account managers I met in 1987. He was a student at Shasta College (Redding, Calif.) I interviewed him for an internship, he ended up not coming,” Grover recalls. “But he saved my business card from my previous company. Seven or eight years ago, he moves to Portland, he looks me up and finds me. He interviewed with us and we hired him and now he’s one of our account managers. I first met him in 1987 at this event! It came full circle.”

Ruppert Landscape Region Manager and NCLC Chairman Doug Halsey. (Photo: Seth Jones)

Ruppert Landscape Region Manager and NCLC Chairman Doug Halsey. (Photo: Seth Jones)

Doug Halsey of Ruppert Landscape and NCLC chairman, was thrilled with the way the 2019 edition was running. Halsey has seen the event grow over the years, from his day as a participant to today.

“I was here 30 years ago, participating in this event — I’ve been in the industry for 25 years,” Halsey says. “This was a game-changer for my career, and for a lot of people here, it’s a potential game-changer for them. It’s exciting to see that our industry can attract such good people, and this is the way they can hone their skills.”

Caterpillar’s Janes agrees and says the future is clearly bright for the students at NCLC.

“We were talking to a young woman yesterday, she graduates this year,” Janes said. “We talked to her about what her career aspirations are. She said the first decision she has to make is which of the 10 job offers she wants to select.”

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 23 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at

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