Woodsmen teams participate in activities from chainsawing to ax-throwing and pole climbing.
Students on college woodsmen’s teams can go from hitting the books to chopping logs in a day, as they practice a competitive sport based on the traditional practices of the lumber trade.
“There’s not too many schools that have woodsmen’s teams so it’s kind of special,” said Cassandra Pinkoski, a first-year graduate student at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). “No one really knows what it is. You say ‘lumberjack,’ and they kind of imagine.”
As part of a woodsmen team, students with a healthy sense of the outdoors get to combine sharp implements with an appreciation for the history of forestry. The sport has various benefits, among them increased fitness, a sense of camaraderie and a chance to get away from hitting the books.
“They get to go into the woods and practice this stuff. It’s a time to bond, a time to relax and get away from the school aspect of college,” said Ian Freeburg, a second-year graduate student at ESF. Freeburg is dedicated to the sport; he chose to attend ESF because it had a woodsmen’s team, is now the head coach and plans to go into lumber sports professionally.
“There is a certain type or a breed who like it, and it’s just people who want to be outdoors and exert themselves physically,” he said.
The physical challenges can be significant, depending on how much time and effort one chooses to dedicate to the sport.
“I started, and thought I was in pretty good shape and I found muscles I didn’t even know I would use,” Pinkoski said.
Teams are made up of six people, and can consist of men, women or a mixture of both. “Jack and Jill” teams, as they are called, perform the same activities, but “I feel like sometimes they don’t take the girls as seriously,” she said.
There is a historical aspect to woodsmen’s teams, as their practices hark back to the days when loggers would get together off the job and have informal competitions.
“It’s kind of a throwback to the way things used to be in the logging industry,” said Jeffrey Benjamin, the faculty adviser for the team at the University of Maine, explaining that students are practicing skills that used to be commonplace in the forest industry. “There’s an element of danger too, when you see students climbing up a pole that’s 30 or 40 feet in the air.”
A fear of falling isn’t the only challenge woodsmen face — other activities include chainsawing, ax-throwing and chopping through logs on which participants are also standing. One event consists of building a fire to boil a pot of soapy water. The atmosphere at a competition can be similar to that of a fairground, with many spectators, and though teams compete year-round, the largest meet occurs in the spring.
“The number of people that show up for it on campus on a Saturday morning is pretty impressive,” Benjamin said. “You hear the chainsaws running, the people cheering. Lots of people stop by to take a look.”
The sport’s eccentric appeal is drawing increasing numbers of students.
“More students try out for the team every year and it has become more competitive,” said Brett Mcleod, who coaches the woodsmen’s team at Paul Smith University. “It’s its own sort of subculture, but it’s certainly growing.”
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