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University of Nevada, Reno, mining student Emma Baker grasped a jackleg while a teammate steadied the drill. The pneumatic tool rattled and sputtered while she powered a metal point into a block of formed concrete, boring as much distance as she could in two minutes during a mining competition in Cornwall, United Kingdom, this spring.

Nearby, her father Vern Baker cheered her on and soon tested his own skill at the same event. He, too, was a UNR mining student who first competed in the International Intercollegiate Mining Games decades ago, and now works as a mine manager in Argentina. At the 40th annual event — hosted by the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines March 29-April 1 at the King Edwards Mine in Camborne, Cornwall — he joined four other Mackay School of Mines graduates to form an alumni team.

Three of the five alumni team members had children competing on the UNR student team this year.

“It’s pretty special to be watching your kid do what 40 years ago you did,” said alumnus Craig Lemons, who remembers performing the same old-school mining techniques at a competition in 1983. Son Austin Lemons said his dad’s past participation inspired him to try out for the student team this year.

From around the world

Nearly 40 teams from around the world participated in this year’s festivities. Students and alumni represented Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition to the teams from UNR, U.S. teams hailed from the University of Arizona, Colorado School of Mines, University of Kentucky, University of Missouri, Montana Tech, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Virginia Tech.

The mining games began in 1978 and were dedicated to the 91 miners who died in a fire at the Sunshine Mine in Idaho six years earlier. Over the years, events have been held all over the world. Last year, the University of Kentucky hosted the competition in Georgetown. Next year, UNR students and alumni are planning to host the event in Virginia City, and they are raising funds and seeking sponsors.

To test their skills

Performing seven traditional mining techniques, teams work together to compete against the clock and their peers. Events include drilling; mucking, shoveling dirt into an ore cart; Swede sawing, cutting a 4-by-4-inch timber; hand-steeling, hammering a steel spike into concrete with a single-jack; gold panning; surveying; and track stand, building a portion of a railroad track.

Although the competition is dirty, rowdy and hard work, the reward is bragging rights for the winners who take home medals and trophies for first through third places. Beer chugging is an unofficial event that also comes with a trophy.

To earn accolades

The UNR student team — the Mackay Muckers, with Austin Lemons, Emma Baker, Kameron Devine, James Ellis, Dalton Koslosky and Claire Roberts — earned honors in the co-ed category. They won first place in hand-steeling, second place overall, and second in gold panning, Swede sawing and mucking in the co-ed category.

The Mackay Muckers Alumni team — made up of Vern Baker, James Eason, Craig Lemons, Bob Ragar and Ken Roberts — took home the gold in hand-steeling, and earned second-place honors in Swede saw and mucking. The team tied for fifth place overall in the alumni category.

“It’s been the coolest thing seeing them compete,” said Claire Roberts, daughter of Ken Roberts. “They still got it.”

And build relationships

Better than medals and titles, however, is the camaraderie formed among teammates and teams while practicing and competing.

Throughout the game days, cheers and jeers filled the air around the competition field at the foot of the area’s former tin mine workings.

High-fives and hugs abounded as wet and dusty classmates and friends congratulated and comforted one another under the alternatingly clear and rainy skies of the Cornish coast.

For the members of the UNR teams, the experience created even stronger bonds among family.

“It’s really been a total family thing,” said Craig Lemons. “It has been a really great experience.”

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Mining Quarterly - Mining, state and county reporter

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