Matt Coakley, Line Technician II, returned from the FMEA Lineman Competition with three trophies – Overall Apprentice, first in written exam and third in ‘mystery’ event – and a $1,000 check.

Matt Coakley didn’t want to sit through another FMEA Lineman Competition awards banquet watching his competitors pick up trophies. That experience was humbling, to put it mildly.

“It sucked,” said Coakley, Line Technician II. “It really did.”

Coakley erased those memories of misery on Feb. 26 at the 2022 statewide rodeo in Fort Pierce when he won the Overall Apprentice trophy with 503 points, the maximum amount attainable. He scored a perfect 100 in each of the five timed skill events he completed, plus got an extra three points for getting the highest score on the written exam. Although he was flawless in the “mystery” event, so called because apprentices only learn about what it entails on the eve of the competition, his final time put him in third place in that contest. Four apprentices from other utilities tied for second in the Overall standings with 500 points.

His award-winning performance in his fourth and last eligible year as an apprentice competitor gave OUC its first Overall award in that division since Chris Hosier, now a Distribution Operator, brought it home in 2004.

“This was my last year as an apprentice, and I just wanted it,” said Coakley, referring to the Overall trophy. “I’ve sat at the awards banquets watching others get trophies in the past, and that’s not a good feeling.”

Coakley described the “mystery” event as an obstacle course that involved a lot of climbing, skills with hand tools and an egg. Yes, an egg.

“I had to carry it in a bucket while climbing a pole, bring it back down and run to a judge with it in my mouth and spit it in his hand without breaking it,” he said. “I didn’t want to have scrambled eggs in my mouth.”

In addition to garnering trophies for Overall Apprentice, first in the written exam and third in the mystery event, Coakley was awarded a $1,000 check by the Florida Municipal Electric Association. The money will go toward OUC’s expenses to compete in the American Public Power Association’s (APPA) Lineworkers Rodeo in Austin, Texas, on March 25-26.

He also returned from Fort Pierce with some gifts he added to his OUC gear: hand tools and an impact drill donated by Milwaukee Tools and Ring Power, respectively, to the top three finishers in the mystery event.

Team foreman Richard Boley, Lead Line Technician, attributed Coakley’s success to the hard work the entire team put in while training for the rodeo.

“We’re all very proud of Matt and what he accomplished. When one of us wins, the entire team wins,” he said. “I really appreciate the effort my guys put in to prepare for the rodeo.”

Four apprentices and two, three-member journeyman teams represented OUC in the FMEA rodeo. They practiced one-day-a-week at the Pershing training yard from December up until the week before the rodeo, when they trained daily.

“OUC gave us a lot of support every step of the way,” said Coakley, “and Richard made sure we got the time we needed to train. Now we have to get ready for nationals.”

He and his teammates will get another shot at winning trophies when they compete in the APPA rodeo. Entering as apprentices are Coakley, Zach Colgan, Line Tech III; Evan Englert, Line Tech III; and Holton Stough, Line Tech II. Zach Rochester, Line Tech II; Nelson Rodriguez, Distribution Operator; and Austin Houk, Line Tech II, make up one journeyman team while Billy Bauknight, Line Tech I; Mark Fisher, Line Tech II; and Russ Osborne, Line Tech II, make up the other.

Boley, Hosier, James Alexander, Sr. Technical Trainer, and Dewey Harvey, Lead Line Technician, are serving as judges at the national event.