Student miners go old school in competition

By Emily C. Samuels

For many, the idea of replacing advanced machinery with manpower seems like a step back in history, but for UK’s mucking team, that is exactly what they are looking to do.

The mucking team, which practices traditional mining techniques, will compete Saturday in Rolla, Mo., at the 30th annual International Intercollegiate Mining Competition. The event was started in remembrance of Idaho’s 1972 Sunshine Mine Disaster — where a fire killed 91 miners — and continues today in honor of miners who have since lost their lives on the job.

The competition is made up of seven events: jackleg drilling, Swede sawing, gold panning, hand steel drilling, hand mucking, track standing and surveying. And the best overall wins.

“It’s about the honor — bragging rights, that’s a lot for miners,” said Joshua Hoffman, a mining engineering graduate student competing as a surveyor.

UK made its first appearance in 2007 with two teams: a co-ed team that tied for second, and a men’s team that finished seventh out of 17. When the mucking team realized that this year’s competition would fall on the same weekend as the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, a test that engineering students must pass to become certified, there was an obvious setback.

“It really killed it that the FE is on the same day because we have a lot of juniors and seniors taking this test,” said Kyle Perry, a mining engineering graduate student and captain of the mucking team.

Each team consists of six people, but only five can compete in any one event. Due to  missing teammates, UK will be bringing one men’s team to the competition this year.

Recently hired Braden Lusk, assistant professor of mining engineering, is the team’s adviser. Lusk started competing in mucking as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri-Rolla and introduced the club to UK.

“The mining industry is a pretty small industry; there are only 13 schools in the U.S. that have mining programs,” Lusk said. “The competition gives the students that are involved a really good opportunity to network.”

Lusk added there are no rules discouraging other students to compete. He sees the mucking team as an opportunity for people who do not know about mining to get involved.

“These things are really individually driven,” Perry said. “These guys are doing it because they want to. There’s not a professor or adviser making them be out there.”

The love of the competition and the appreciation for the historical significance each event holds is why old-school mining is continuing to grow, Hoffman said.

“There’s something novel about it, it’s more hands on,” he said. “All of today’s mining is huge machinery, and so if you can go out there and play in the dirt, it’s a little more fun.”