Greg Copen believes the average taxpayer in Maryland does not give the State Highway Administration enough credit.
"We've had a pretty bad image through the years," said Copen, the acting supervisor of road maintenance in Harford County who has been an employee of the state highway department for the last decade.
In the hope of turning around that image, Copen and co-worker Jim McKenzie, hope to win one for Maryland in the National Snow Rodeo Championship in Fort Collins, Colo., Sept. 23-26.
The annual event allows highway workers from around the nation to brush up on their skills and have fun.
Sixty competitors must answer written questions about road maintenance techniques and equipment. They also take part in a diagnostic test in which they must correct 10 things wrong with a vehicle in 10 minutes. And finally, they must maneuver through an obstacle course in a dump truck with a snow plow that weighs upward of 14,000 pounds.
Copen and McKenzie, an employee in the Prince George's County division of the highway administration, are to represent Maryland in the competition. At the annual state rodeo at Sandy Point State Park last October, Copen placed first and McKenzie was runner-up.
The state championship consists of the same three parts as the national rodeo and was established two years ago as a morale booster.
"With all of the layoffs and the other doings of Governor [William Donald] Schaefer, these are tough times to keep the excitement and camaraderie up," said Rick Klein, the event's organizer and chief of training and testing.
Klein said the rodeo is an opportunity for the participants to have fun and to brush up on their skills.
Most of the 4,300 employees of the Highway Administration sold popcorn, T-shirts, hats, hot dogs and sponsored a cookout to raise the $4,200 needed to pay for the competitors and Klein to attend the national championship.
In Colorado, Copen and McKenzie will have to adjust to a larger field of competitors and to working as a team instead of as opponents.
"That really doesn't cause a problem," said McKenzie, a heavy-equipment operator who has been with the highway administration 14 years. "Through the years, we worked with each other off and on."
"Jim wasn't far behind me in the state championships," Copen said. "It is a boost of confidence knowing my partner is just as good as I am.
"It makes us proud to be representing the state of Maryland," Copen said. "The rest of the guys here are looking for us to come back winners."