A local man’s journey to remain the World’s Best Bricklayer
BY AMANDA ANDERSON MATTHEWS
Sweet Owen Contributor
One might say bricks are in his blood. Cole Stamper’s early ancestors were brickmakers and bricklayers.
Maybe it was destiny that he would become the World’s Best Brick Layer. More than likely, though, it’s his incredible work ethic and determination to be good at what he does.
On Jan. 18, 2023, Cole Stamper is competing in Las Vegas to attempt what has never been done before: bring home the title of World’s Best Bricklayer for the second year in a row.
The SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500 competition takes place each year in Las Vegas during The World of Concrete Convention during Masonry Madness. Bricklayers from around the globe attend the convention but also compete for a chance at the title of “World’s Best Bricklayer.” Up for grabs is $125,000 in cash and prizes, including a Ford F250 4x4, which Stamper won last year, and a Kubota RTV-X1140 for the best craftsman. In the 20 years the competition has been running, three masons have won twice, and one mason has won three times. No one has won two consecutive years. Stamper is determined to break that record.
It turns out that bricklayers are pretty competitive. As Stamper says, “masonry itself is actually fairly competitive. You know, you’ll never meet a bricklayer that doesn’t think he’s the fastest or the best or anything like that.”
In this competition, the rules are straightforward: a team comprised of a mason and a tender build a 26-foot wall, two bricks deep, with 40 bricks on each side, in one hour. The goal is to lay as many bricks with as few quality errors as possible. Stamper and his tender, Jeff Becker, won the champion title in 2022 by laying 760 bricks with no deductions. This year his goal is 800 bricks. In the August regional competition held in Ohio they laid 801.
“His motto as he lays brick is something, a mantra you might say, that he repeats in his head while he’s competing: ‘Plumb, level-straight, perfect eight,’” Cole’s father, Edison Stamper, said. “In other words, a perfect 800, and this last regional was the first time he laid over 800 bricks perfectly, so his mantra manifested itself.”
To compete in the SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500, a mason must qualify for the event by attending and winning regional competitions which are held around the globe. If a team advances far enough in the regional competitions, they can earn a spot at the SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500 in Las Vegas. Stamper has gone to Las Vegas to compete against the best masons in the world in the competition four times. In 2017 and 2020, he placed fourth, and in 2019 he placed second, where he lost by a mere 11 bricks, which only fueled his desire to keep competing. The announcers asked him if he was ready to give up, but if there was a truck to win, he was going to win it.
“I mean, really, truly, there’s a lot of camaraderie,” Stamper said. “Everybody gets along with each other, you know? It’s a friendly competition. Everybody wants to win. There’s nobody who is there just to do more work.”
‘The best of everything’
Driving down the Stamper’s driveway, one is greeted by a succession of 14 brick walls. Each is 26-feet long, two bricks wide, and 40 bricks on each side. A careful eye will notice three more walls along the tree line and four more past the house. Evidence of Stamper’s dedication. His determination to be the best.
Initially, he salvaged bricks from job sites or bought them to build his practice walls. Now a masonry supply company out of Lexington, Clay Ingles Co., donates most materials for him to practice with. Stamper builds two to three practice walls before each regional competition and each trip to Las Vegas, although some walls he tore down before deciding if the wall was “good enough to keep, it was good enough to win.”
Cole Stamper grew up in Owen County, attending Owen County Schools until eighth grade when he left for Scattergood Friends School in West Branch, Iowa, where he attended high school. He attended a semester at Transylvania University before deciding that college wasn’t for him.
It was then that he began his masonry career by accident. Stamper needed work, and it so happened that his good friend’s father, Dave, a mason, needed help. That was in 1999 at the age of 18, and he never looked back.
“That was one thing that I learned from Dave; he really wanted me to focus on quality, you know, as most people do,” Cole said. “He always told me to slow down, but I was always naturally fast.”
After a couple of years, Dave retired, and Stamper bought his equipment and started working for himself.
To meet Stamper, one might not suspect he is a fierce competitor. He is soft-spoken, exceptionally polite, and welcoming. Totally disarming and charming. His mother-in-law, Teresa Biagi, describes him as “the best of everything. He’s the nicest person. He is always nice. He is thoughtful and kind and nice and will do anything in the world for you.”
Except let you win.
It is this determination, this competitive nature, that has driven him so far. He has risen the ranks of his company to become co-owner of Mason Structure Inc. out of Lexington. He has competed in SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500 four times. His wife, Sayward McKee Stamper, says, “He’s the hardest working guy I know. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a hobby, if it’s for this job, or what he does in his leisure time. He is usually working really hard, regardless. But he’s extremely competitive, too. But you know, it’s anything. If it’s a competition and he could win, then he will work at it and practice at it. We play pool. We play ping pong. Darts, whatever. It could be a stone-throwing contest, and he will try and win. He doesn’t give in on anything, either. He doesn’t let our daughter Lucca win.”
A foundation for success
His parents, Sue and Edison Stamper, talk about how he used to finish his homework on the bus. Sue Stamper tells, “He’s just somebody who’s always trying to do his best. He always liked to do his best. He wasn’t in a lot of competitions growing up or anything like that, but you know, I think he’s always been a leader. I feel like he’s always going to be good at whatever he does. That’s what he strives for.”
Stamper has been on missions to Nicaragua to create community gardens. He has created stained glass and woodworking marvels. He helped build the schools in Owen County. Zig Ziglar once said that “the foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love, and loyalty.” It appears that Cole Stamper has located the ideal balance with his foundation. He is, literally and metaphorically, building the perfect foundation of success with each brick he lays. Cole didn’t happen in these competitions by accident. He earned his spot, brick by brick. ϖ
You can help cheer Cole along by tuning into the World’s Best Bricklayer livestream on Jan. 18, at www.specmix.com.