Lumberjacks sharpen skills in logging sports

Logging Games
Logging Games
NAU Logging Sports co-captain Casey Branning practices throwing a double-bit axe at a target. Branning placed fourth at the Conclave in traverse, which involves finding a course with a compass. Teammate Steven Granroth took second.

Northern Arizona University’s Logging Sports Team is reminding the country what being a lumberjack is all about.

At the 73rd annual Conclave of the Association of Western Forestry Clubs in Corvallis, Ore., last month, the Lumberjacks finished seventh overall in a competition that involves throwing double-edged axes, climbing tall, swaying trees and balancing on suspended logs with running chainsaws.

“It’s a pretty pure, unadulterated sport with really strong ties to the outdoors and tradition,” said team captain David Gouveia, a forestry junior from Tucson. “There’s something about going out in the woods every day and swinging an axe. It’s practical and fun.”

For Gouveia and his 15 Logging Sports teammates, the practice paid off. Among the awards, Gouveia took third place in birling, an activity that involves two competitors standing on a log in a lake. Each struggles to stay upright as it rolls. In Corvallis, losing meant falling into 38-degree water.

“It’s a very tough event. Not a lot of people can manage to stay up on a spinning log. It takes strong legs and balance.”

His teammate, Tor Skeen, a forestry junior from southern California, said it’s impossible not to get wet. “You’re trying to put the other person off balance by changing the direction of the rolling log.”

NAU’s Jessica Smith, a junior parks and recreation management major from Twentynine Palms, Calif., took fifth place in the women’s power saw competition at the Conclave.

“I have to say competing with a chainsaw is one of the more empowering events,” she said. “I certainly think these skills will help me land a job and be especially valuable for maintaining backcountry trails.”

The Logging Sports were sanctioned as an official collegiate sport by NAU shortly after the School of Forestry was established in 1958. Forestry students trained and competed for more than 20 years. But around 1982, interest faded until recently when NAU Forestry professor and Forestry Club faculty adviser Denver Hospodarsky started up the team again.

“We’ve been rebuilding by recruiting team members and acquiring equipment,” he said. “Five years ago we sent four students to the conclave. This year we sent 16. It’s very gratifying to see students participate and achieve success in an area where they may not have known they had talent.”

“Having such a team is a tribute to the tradition of logging, which is an important part of our heritage, not to mention an important modern industry,” said NAU School of Forestry executive director Jim Allen.

For the past two years, Montana’s Flathead Community College has ranked first place overall at the conclave. But NAU’s Forestry Club is conducting fundraising activities to purchase more logging sports equipment and to hire a logging sports veteran to coach the team. The Lumberjacks are expecting these efforts to give them a stronger competitive edge in future Logging Sports events.

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