BLACKSBURG, Va. – Donning masks and carrying dry erase boards, teams made their way through a veritable obstacle course.
“It's great training for real life because you take not just the things that you learn here, but the team chemistry. We're able to build chemistry together. We're able to talk to each other, learn what each person does best," mine rescue team member Andy Sawyers said.
The course simulated a mine rescue, but the teams, like Sawyers' team from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, were kept in a nearby gymnasium while they waited for their turn so that they couldn’t mine the course for potential strategies ahead of time.
“It's great to have competition, to be able to work with your brothers here but also to compete against them,” Sawyers said.
Jack Richardson is the chief operating officer of Warrior Met Coal in Alabama.
He looks forward to bringing a team to the competition every year.
“It's like a homecoming for me because I grew up in this area. Back in the '80's, I actually competed here in Blacksburg with the Buchanan team out of Virginia. So I know how special mine rescue is,” Richardson said.
The competition, which runs from Aug. 5-8, is organized by the Virginia Mining Institute.
President Judy Steele Horne said it’s about more than just bragging rights and a trophy.
“They're very focused on what they do. They work hard, they get all the knowledge they can and they're totally into it here," Horne said. "It's not all fun and games here because they're in the real situation a lot, so they're as serious here as they would be anywhere.”
That's good news for the roughly 52,000 coal miners across the country.