Six Shooter Challenge 2019 Recap with Photos, Video, and an Interview With Joe Wolos
01/08/2020 by Imri Merritt aka M
Another exciting Six-Shooter Challenge is in the books, and the theme this year seemed to be “expect the unexpected.” From shocking upsets to unconventional techniques, and even a rule change, this year had it all. That includes puppies and dance performances. The ink flowed and the shirts flew off the presses. Everyone had a blast, and we have a winner.
I sat down with the host and organizer of Six Shooter, production director Joe Wolos, to get the inside scoop on everything that went down this year. Enjoy the interview, along with photos and videos from our best year of competition yet. But first…
What is the Six Shooter Competition?
Six Shooter is RushOrderTees’ annual screen printing contest, a tournament-style competition among our employees that takes place over the course of six weeks. Each Friday afternoon is another round, and employees gather on the production floor to witness the action and cheer on the competitors. The winner of the tournament gets a championship belt, bragging rights, and if they win the whole thing, the coveted Golden Squeegee.
What are the Six Shooter rules?
• Two screen printers face off at a time. The winner will advance in the tournament and the other will be eliminated.
• When the whistle blows, they race to finish printing six T-shirts on a six-head manual print machine (hence the name).
• Shirts must go around the press at least once. The time ends when the last shirt hits the dryer belt.
• Referees log their times, and immediately afterward their shirts are judged for quality.
• Any mistake on a shirt will take 5 seconds off their time.
Mistakes can include ink smudges, bad placement, double prints, incomplete prints, or anything that we wouldn’t send to a customer. (Mistakes previously only deducted 3 seconds off the time, but this year we changed the rule.)
The first rounds in the competition are easiest. One hit of dark ink on white shirts. After that, it gets more difficult. They must print white ink on a dark shirt, which means each shirt needs to be printed, flash dried and printed again. The final round is the most challenging, with white ink plus gold on dark shirts, which amounts to three hits of ink total.
After the final four compete and the champion is crowned, he or she faces the “Final Boss” (from the previous year) for The Golden Squeegee. Check out this video by our own Dan Leer showing some highlights of the tournament in progress:
Six Shooter 2019 Results
The fastest screen printer we have– possibly in the world– and your 2019 Six Shooter Champion is… Evan Watkins.
Not only did he defeat Ryan Buggey and Austin Garrity to take the 2019 Belt, but he also defeated the “Final Boss”, two-time champion Angel Melendez, to win the Golden Squeegee.
Perennial contenders and arch-rivals Juan Santos and Tony Santiago were both eliminated in surprise upsets leading into the final four. Knowing these two, it will only make them more competitive next year. Can’t wait. Huge congrats to Evan.
Evan made history on his third run against Melendez, becoming the first printer to finish with a time under a minute– his time after penalties was 59 seconds. Evan is a humble guy and took it all in stride. We’ll see if all the fame and acclaim go to his head by next year’s contest. The Golden Squeegee has changed hands each year.
Talking Six Shooter: An Interview with Organizer and Host Joe Wolos
M: How long have we been doing the Six Shooter competition?
Joe: We’ve been doing it for six years, since 2014. This was the fifth year here though because we moved to this new building in July of 2015. Back then we used to have Six Shooter in our busiest season– in summer. For some reason.
M: And when it’s the hottest.
Joe: And when it’s the hottest, which made a lot of sense [laughing]. Then I moved it to fall, which was a little less busy– it felt like. But now it seems like it’s even busier in the fall, so I keep moving it to busier seasons then the last. Now it’s during the Christmas rush season [laughing]. So yeah, 2014 was the first one. This year was the 5th annual Six Shooter Challenge.
M: How did it first get started? Was it your idea?
Joe: It was actually me and Mike’s [founder and CEO]. We were talking about ideas for team building exercises and fun ways to showcase the printers’ talents, to get them more involved in the company and be prouder of what they do. We also really wanted to see who would beat each other in a race– Juan or Tony?
M: And Mike’s a competitive guy.
Joe: Yeah, but he’s never entered up until this year. This was the first year he entered the whole competition. He first started as a ref with me, and he was a ref for 3 years.
M: Last year he came in at the very end.
Joe: Yeah, actually. He was a ref for two years, and then for another two years, he was the Final Boss. Then this year he entered the whole thing. He’s always been the Final Boss, but then Melendez [the other most senior and experienced master printer] took the Golden Squeegee from him last year.
So now he has to re-enter the whole thing. Now that Melendez lost the Golden Squeegee, if he was to re-enter the competition, he needs to start from the beginning. [laughing] He’s really upset.
M: Did we always have the Golden Squeegee?
Joe: No, I invented that just for Mike. I just wanted Mike to compete. He didn’t want to do the reffing anymore. He wanted to watch it and be more of a spectator, and it got really busy. So he wanted to cheer the people on and be in the crowd, speaking to people. That was more his thing, the third year.
And then I had this idea where I just wanted to see– you know because Mike’s one of the greatest printers we have here– I just wanted to see how, as the Final Boss, he might do against the Champion. And the first year, he smoked ‘em.
M: Yeah he did.
Joe: Mike has this really cool spin move he does, where the board perfectly stops as he spins around and loads the next shirt. It’s pretty fun to watch.
M: It’s like a rockstar move.
M: So I imagine this has gotten bigger every year?
Joe: Definitely. I think the first year we had ten people enter it all together, and I basically forced four of them into it. And then I think the second year, in 2016, we had thirty, and then it was like forty. Then last year we had fifty something, and this year we have sixty. So every year we have more competitors from each department, too.
M: We had people from almost every department?
Joe: Almost every department. Steve Cruz is the only salesperson to still enter, to this day. I know Justin Blake’s in sales, so I mean, technically he entered again this year. But Steve Cruz, pretty proud of him. He’s the only salesperson to ever enter.
Joe: Then we had Drew from Marketing, the only marketer ever to enter. Drew and Justin’s whole battle was pretty interesting to watch. [laughing] And they’re really good printers. [rolls eyes, laughing] So that was really interesting to watch.
And then Art has been having a really major showing, not only to support but to enter. This year we had four or five artists. Every year Art is gathering more and more people, which is pretty nice.
M: I’ll have to get in on it next year. I haven’t printed in years, I need practice. I don’t want to embarrass myself completely.
Joe: There’s no embarrassment in Six Shooter.
M: Okay, slightly embarrassed. Not completely embarrassed.
Joe: Did you see Drew and Justin? [laughing]
M: Yep. [laughing] It inspired me.
M: How much planning and preparation goes into it?
Joe: A lot. The first year, we kinda just, you know– we winged it. There wasn’t much planning going into it. It was just six shirts. White ink on black shirts. There were no different scenarios or anything like that.
Our second year, kind of the same thing. I think the final, we finally threw in a two-color, as the final two, which made it interesting. And since then we’ve been keeping the two-color theme.
Joe: One year, I think it was the third year, we skipped doing the two-color as the final showcase, the final two. We did 12 shirts. It just took way too long. It was like, 3 minutes of people yelling ‘Yeaaahhh! ‘By the time the 3 minutes are over, you don’t feel like screaming anymore. So, back to the two-color.
But yeah, the planning gets more intense every year. Last year was the first year I had Al Leck [facilities] help, which, thank God I did. I was able to do smoke machines and laser lights and stuff like that.
M: When do you start planning?
Joe: So this year I started writing a script for it in about August when I was just hanging in my backyard and I was throwing ideas past Kolleen [Productions Operations manager]. And then since August, I’ve been slowly gathering up ideas.
I’ll throw one idea to one person to see what they think of it, but I don’t throw all the ideas at them, ‘cause I kind of want to keep everybody in the unknown until the final show. I like it to be a surprise.
So I kind of let a little bit slip here and there for the first couple of months, and then I’ll let the people that are closest to the show know about the whole thing, like Jason [Production manager], Dave [DTG manager]. Mike knew a little bit, but he didn’t want to know about the halftime show this year ‘cause he wanted to be surprised.
Joe: Interesting thing. I had a different halftime show planned this year, but then Alonzo [printer] said he could do better, so I changed up my halftime show, which I’m glad I did. So that halftime show might be next year. Although I don’t think it’s going to be as good as Alonzo’s. So maybe I’ll have like five halftime show is next year to match up with that. [laughing]
So it was about three months of just thinking about it in all of my spare time.
M: How long does the whole tournament take?
Joe: This year we were on a really strict timeline. That’s why I had in the beginning, the first two weeks, I had like four people go at once. It was like two people on belt one, two people on belt two, all at once so that we can get through it. Sixty people takes a long time. I try to fit into it like about eight matches each day.
If it goes over eight matches, I’m pretty much going over 45 minutes. I’m trying to keep this up 45 minutes so that I’m not affecting production too much. This year I believe it went six weeks long. We skipped one week ’cause of Black Friday, but I think it was exactly six weeks. Which is nice.
M: Getting it down to a science at this point.
Joe: Last year I believe it went for nine weeks. So a little bit better [laughing].
M: Who are the main people involved?
Joe: Al Leck does an amazing job every year. He cares about it just as much as I do. He lets me borrow his smoke machines, and he sets up the laser lights. He sets up the banners. He’s there for the dry runs. The night before [the final], he was here till 11:00-11:30 with us, practicing. We were all here till midnight on the eve of the final.
Rebecca did a dry run Thursday night, Alonzo did a dry run Thursday night– Alonzo did like eight dry runs on Thursday night, just practicing. We didn’t have the lighting setup. So we really just did it in the middle of the warehouse, listening to Dave’s music and testing out the sounds.
Al was a really huge deal with Six Shooter for me ’cause he really helped me out with setting up everything. Then with the entrances, and everything like that, the lighting…
Jason [Production manager] is the ref this year. I wanted to take a step back, and kinda just give some side commentary so that people could understand what was going on, for people who don’t know what the printers do every day, and also kind of showcase the personalities of the printers. And what the competition is about.
So Jason took over reffing. Carolyn [Customer Care] and Rosalee [Screening] helped with quality checks, which is really cool. I gotta thank them.
And then Dave was also a ref for the majority of the competition, then he was the major DJ, which was pretty cool, at the very end. He’s great with that. Used all of his own equipment. He has, like, a studio that he rents out. So he brought all of his equipment from the studio the night before and it all up. And I mean, that’s some pretty serious equipment right there. So luckily I didn’t need to rent a DJ.
All of my ideas I run by Kolleen, obviously and she helped set up music for the first 5 weeks of it, which was really cool. I mean, she picked the majority of those songs and then even the timing of when they would play. And she would go so far as like, ‘When does the whistle blow? All right. I’m hitting play now…’ It was pretty cool.
M: I noticed that was really well coordinated.
Joe: She did a great job with that and she has really good music taste. Everybody who really took part, like Alonzo, Rebecca [Affiliate Relations]. They were super thrilled about it. Everybody asked if they could help out. Paul Miller and Ed [both Expiditing] counted all of our shirts and delivered them to the press.
All the printers helped set up the screens, grabbed the ink, helped each other out. Helped the new guys who had never printed a day. There were about 5 people this year who literally never printed. So when they walk up there they had no idea what to do [laughing]. Someone was telling them moments before, “oh wait, you gotta ink up your screen, you gotta pull the squeegee this way– it was pretty intense.”
Joe: Bravo to those people, having the courage to do something they never did before, in front of like 40 people who are screaming. Especially Juan and Tony were constantly in the background. Juan is doing like, lunges and Tony is screaming at the top of his lungs [laughing].
It’s nerve-racking to get up there and do the hosting, but I can’t imagine competing and having people screaming in my face. That’s pretty rough.
So yeah, I want to thank everyone who participated, they’re what makes it fun. And the fans for showing up. There’s something about the last like 10 seconds when two printers are really close, and they’re both down to two shirts. And they’re throwing their last two shirts and everybody starts screaming at the top of their lungs– that is my favorite moment.
M: It gets pretty wild.
Joe: Yeah, there were a lot of moments like that this year. And then Kacie [Art] always does the video. And the major banners and the video, and then, of course, Dan [Marketing] with the photography and helped me with the first impressions videos. Posting all the stats. You, M, for making the scoreboard. And the recap. Yeah. Everybody.
M: Those first impression videos were really funny and great.
Joe: Drew came up with doing something like that, saying why don’t we have stats for the printers and interview them? So I said great, why don’t we start with Drew and Justin, and have them attack each other? Justin said he wanted to just go for it. So I separated them and we interviewed them separately so they didn’t know what each other said.
Joe: So then I had to take it a step farther with Keith [Production] and Derek [printer]. I told Derek to really play up him always being on his phone and not caring about anything. And then I wanted to have Keith play out being super charismatic. Keith is dancing all the time. I wish we could have done more, than but we got to the busy season, and it got a little crazy.
Joe: Oh– and Michell [production] designed the belt. I forgot about that. Michell designed our Six Shooter belt. That came out great. Thanks Mich.
M: You seem to enjoy hosting and you make it a lot of fun. Is that something that comes naturally to you?
Joe: I’ve always been the ref. The first year, I didn’t even have a megaphone or anything like that. I was just like screaming at the top of my lungs. And then I start getting a megaphone and doing the whole announcer thing, ‘In this corner…’ and everyone seemed to love it so I got comfortable doing that. I’m very comfortable with everyone in the company. I feel like I could ask anyone for a favor and they’d be more than happy to do it. So I feel very comfortable with everyone.
Joe: The side commentary that I wanted to do last year, that I wasn’t able to do as much during the competition, I was making these little comments to people in the crowd to make them laugh, and then a few people said, ‘I wish you could do this all the time’, and so I felt, introducing a little humor when people are competing and having that jokester vibe to the Six Shooter was fun.
I don’t feel nervous. I feel comfortable with everybody so there are no nerves. I’m just being me. It’s cool. I’m comfortable enough to be myself around people and let that side of my humor show, ’cause I really enjoy making people laugh.
M: Since you have a good relationship with everybody it kind of gives you the license to take shots here and there.
Joe: Yeah I was a little worried about some of the shots I took this year but afterward people were like, ‘That was so funny’. I’m like alright, cool [laughing].
M: The smack-talking part of it, when you let people say a few words right before, that’s kind of new this year, right?
Joe: That is new. There’s some that I helped guide, maybe a little bit. Not wrote directly but maybe a few of them were a little nudged by me. And obviously, I get ideas from other people. I’m not going to name which contestants I might have helped but there were a few that were like, ‘Hey, could you think of something cool for me to say?’ So I might have just helped them a little bit, but I’d rather not myself in trouble.
M: So this year we had a bunch of upsets. Did that surprise everyone? And what accounted for that?
Joe: Yeah. Definitely. I think it’s awesome that there were new people in the final four this year, besides Buggey [printer]. All final four were very strong printers, very strong competitors. Yeah Juan and Tony not being in the final four, not being the final two, I think was an upset. And I think that’s feeling is down to them being great showmen.
They have an aura about them. They like to scream at each other. They have a feud going since the inception of Six Shooter. It’s fun every year to have Tony screaming at Juan, and then Juan eating cookies on his shoulder. It’s always fun to watch.
So I think those two were pretty big upsets. But that’s the name of the game. They got out early, but at least we had that fun leading up to [their elimination]. I still got to include them at the end. A lot of people actually asked me to keep them in, which would not be fair. But in the final four, people want to see a ‘Tony vs Juan’ match-up, too.
So we just had that quick quality thing. Next year, I’m sure those two will be dead serious about entering. They start asking me when it’s going to start, in like, July. They’re lifers in the competition. They can’t back out like Melendez.
M: We had a slight change of rules this time. How did that come about?
Joe: So yeah, it’s always been a 3-second penalty per messed up shirt. Then after the first rounds this year where it was white shirts black ink, there were about three match-ups where a printer won, despite getting all six shirts messed up. They were simply faster than the other person by 18 seconds [the maximum amount of time you could be penalized for].
So it was like, what’s the point? [laughing] If they could literally just not even print the shirts, just spin the boards and get a dot of ink on it and then throw it, does that count?
There’s no official rulebook for Six Shooter, which I like. If someone can think of something creative to do… every year you have the one who person who, let’s say, skips every other board, or doubles up… every year there are a few people who get creative.
A couple of the printers didn’t think it was fair, and also, we really want to be focused on quality. And that’s another thing that’s been on my mind. We’re really good at speed, we’re RushOrderTees, but I want to really focus on our quality. We should be focused on both speed and quality. That is our namesake.
We raised the bar for quality, which really showed who got pushed out of the contest, and also showed who would have stayed in the contest based upon the old rules. There were a lot of changes this year to the final four.
M: It’s five seconds [penalty] now, instead of three seconds, right?
Joe: Five seconds per messed up shirt. And there were a lot of different opinions. I asked everybody how we should do it.
Joe: Juan and Tony were actually the two who pushed me to want to do that. They wanted to focus on quality and speed. In Juan’s words– you probably shouldn’t write this but– he said he’s not f—ing around this year. [laughing]
M: I’ll add those little dashes. [laughing]
M: We have talked about challenging other printing companies. Is that something you think could happen someday?
Joe: I would love to, I would really really love to. Everybody keeps asking me that. Invite this company or invite that company. I don’t want to name the companies, but– there’s one major one that, they wanna face off. I would be more than happy to face off– their greatest printers vs our greatest printers. I don’t know how that would work– if they would enter from the beginning or we jut have us vs them scenario right from the start.
M: It could almost be an exhibition match, to the side of the normal brackets and all that.
Joe: I just don’t know how fair they would think it is to come to our home turf, you know? And then are we gonna go to their home turf? Maybe we’ll just rent out a stadium. [laughing]
M: I notice whenever we post the videos on social media, there’s a lot of smack talking on there, like ‘Oh I could do that, we could beat you guys’. One time Dan posted something like, ‘Ok show us what you got. Post a video of yourself printing according to the rules and show your time.’ And we got zero submissions. [laughing] Where you at?
Joe: Yeah, try it out. Six shirts, two hits of white. One spin of the boards per shirt. Five seconds per messed up shirt. Let’s see what you got.
M: You should have to qualify first before we bring you in.
Joe: And it can’t be a left chest– it needs to be a full chest. People are cheatin’ with the left chest. I mean, come on.
M: [laughing] Cool, so that could happen someday.
M: How much does it disrupt our production schedule and how do we make up for that?
Joe: Luckily all of the all of the production department backs this so much. They love it so much. and I feel like the final four and Championship gets so big that they’re like really looking forward to that big day because we do it up so much.
Throughout the season they really help out with– getting toward when we got busier– we do one late night a week where we buy the guys dinner. We have them stay till 9pm and they start at 8 or 9am. So they’re working a 12-hour day.
So we buy them dinner and then they’ll stay behind and work later to get us ahead. Right around Six Shooter time, the guys start volunteering to do it three nights in a row. So I was buying them dinner three nights in a row, they were getting far ahead as possible, staying even the night before so that Friday really lightened up on our list.
And also, production is nice enough that I start at 3pm which is right on their break– which from 3 to 3:20. So everybody in production is actually using their break to come and watch. So it’s not like, you know, “I hate you.” They get to enjoy a great game, and at the same time, we’re not losing too much productivity.
So 3 to 3:30 break, and we usually go for about 45 minutes. So it’s an additional 25 minutes that were making up for the three nights before where they’re working and an additional two hours each night. So it works out well. And everyone is really cool about doing it. They’re like, let’s get ahead so we can enjoy Six Shooter and take our time with it. It’s been nice.
M: Do you feel the competition inspires the printers to be better at their jobs?
Joe: Definitely. The first year, no one really understood what it was going to be. The second year, people got excited about it, and I noticed an uptick in production. Then the third year, I start utilizing that uptick, getting people stoked by testing them and timing them on actual real orders [laughing].
They took their time a little bit more ’cause they didn’t want to mess up the shirts, but then there was even more of an uptick. Now, our printers are so fast and so good. They’re so good at what they do.
There are some auto guys [automatic print machine operators] who hop on a manual [machine] and practice on live orders so that they can get their hands acclimated with manual printing again, instead of auto printing.
I saw Evan Watkins and Melendez secretly practicing. Jason Figueroa. I saw Mike out there. I saw people timing themselves. James Rich. Kristina. I saw people timing themselves and see what they could do. And then they’re doing that on live orders, and getting them out faster– that’s a win/win.
M: There’s definitely skill and athleticism involved in it. Hand-eye coordination, and being able to perform under pressure. All that stuff.
M: How do you see this developing in the future?
Joe: That’s a good question. This was our biggest year. We never had a halftime show before. Rebecca sang the National Anthem [at halftime] which I thought was cool, but then when I thought about it I was like, we need to start with that every year. It should be a mainstay.
Every great sporting event has the National Anthem sung [at the start]. So that will be something you’ll see every year now.
That halftime show, I feel, has to be bigger every year. I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do next year [laughing]. This year Alonzo hit it out of the ballpark. I couldn’t even believe how good he was with what he did and he hasn’t performed in a very long time. He wasn’t even nervous. He was really cool with it.
I don’t know how I’m going to top this next year. It was pretty big. We had smoke machines, we had laser lights. We technically had three acts this year with Rebecca, Alonzo, and then Melendez’s grand entrance [laughing].
Next year I feel like I’m just really going to have to push the final four more– or the final guy more. Add in additional competitors somehow. I don’t know. There’s always going to have to be these acts now, like the halftime show.
I’m really going to have to make that champion like, go through hell. To be the champion. Testing that final guy, or girl, is going to be where we go next. Really proving yourself, maybe a gauntlet where you face off. Every final four winner ever.
M: Or blindfolded like Mike did.
Joe: [laughing] Or blindfolded. That’d be great.
M: Do you think this is something that we could have local media cover at any point? You think if NBC10 or whoever wanted to show up with cameras and a reporter we could make room for them?
Joe: Yes. Definitely. I would have loved to have it this year. I think it would have been awesome, people would have loved to see that. Putting the newscast out there, and then the guys’ families at home get to see them on TV doing what they love to do every day, doing what they’re good at, as their careers. Showing off that talent on TV, that would be awesome. Yeah, I would love it if someone came out, I would totally make room for that.
M: Next year.
Joe: Next year!
Happy New Year!
About the Author
Imri Merritt aka M Imri (pronounced em-rye), also known as “M”, joined RushOrderTees in the spring of 2015, bringing over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry. Over the next three years, he helped transform the Art Department, improving the overall quality, efficiency, and customer service of the team, while making some beautiful T-shirts along the way. A graduate of the Multimedia program at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he has explored various creative pursuits, including art and design, marketing, DJing, and even producing comedy shows. He brings his well-rounded skill set and forward-thinking approach to every project he's involved with at Printfly / Rush Order Tees. He is a contributing writer for Impressions Magazine, Printwear Magazine, and ASI Central. He loves roller coasters, music, and fried pickles.