When some college students bomb an examination, they mope in the cafeteria.
Jackie June picks up an ax. And starts swinging.
“It really gets out a lot of frustration,” said June, a member of the woodsmen’s team at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks. “It’s a real stress-reliever; it just seems empowering. There’s something about an ax that gives you that feeling.”
June and other members of the chopping, sawing and sprinting team will share rustic and rousing feelings this weekend at the 22nd annual Northeast Outdoors Show at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in downtown Albany. The Capital Region’s annual kick-off for trout and turkey seasons will feature more than 150 exhibitor booths. New hunting, fishing, hiking and camping equipment will be on display. Live animals, a fully stocked trout pond, fly casting workshops and a turkey calling contest are also among the attractions.
Lumberjacks and Jills from Paul Smith’s, an 850-student college near Saranac Lake, will show off skills at the show for the first time. The 30 men and women on the team compete with a handful of colleges — such as Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, Sir Sanford Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario, and the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse — in a season that begins in the fall, breaks during winter and resumes in the spring.
SPEED AND STRENGTH
Throwing a ball long or fast means nothing in timber sports. But like players on basketball and football teams, log cutters and choppers need speed and strength.
They score points during the packboard relay, in which one athlete straps a board containing 50 pounds of weight to his back, sprints a short distance through the woods and then transfers the pack to the next runner on the relay team.
Ax throwing, cross-cutting (a two-man saw), log rolling, chain-saw cutting, tree-climbing and bowsaw (a one-man saw) are other events held outdoors. A woodsman’s field house really is out in the field. And unlike hoop and helmet counterparts, the team uniform is usually college shirts and heavy-duty pants.
Curt Karboski, 20, who captains the Paul Smith’s team, said he and his pals practice three times a week. Each session lasts about two hours.
“It’s kind of a traditional sport. It goes back to what men used to do,” said Karboski, a junior from Parish, north of Syracuse. “Lumberjacks used to have big competitions to see who was best.”
Teammate Megan Veley, a junior from Dryden (near Ithaca) agreed.
“It’s a tradition in our country. That’s how people used to build their houses,” said Veley, 20. “Nowadays, everything is done for you. You can see how everything was done with young kids throwing axes, sawing wood. It’s high-endurance, it’s fast and it’s intriguing.”
No Football or lacrosse
Karboski, who stands 6-feet-4 and weighs about 250 pounds, played football at Altmar-Parish-Williamstown High School and wished he could have continued a tackling career in college. But Paul Smith’s does not have a football team, and Karboski wanted to study fishery science. So he went back to nature for his athletics and has excelled at the underhand ax chop.
“You stand on top of a block of wood and chop underneath your feet,” he said.
Paul Smith’s, like other places with woodsmen’s teams, fields a four-man “A” team, a four-man “B” team, a co-ed “Jack-and-Jill” team and a four-woman team.
“We’re the biggest team on campus,” Karboski said. “I think we have the most people. The rugby team might be bigger, but we win more than anybody else.”
June, a 19-year-old sophomore from Montgomery in Orange County, would have loved to continue with lacrosse. But, like Karboski, she was out of luck.
June likes the woodsmen events because they are feats of skills not often performed by women. And like any other sport, members have to practice, practice, practice.
“You have to have speed and accuracy,” said June, who is studying culinary arts at Paul Smith’s. “When it comes to your event, it’s all about form. Once you get your form down, then you’re able to get faster and more accurate.”
The guys are glad to have the girls for company, although at first, June said, seeing big, lumberjack types swinging axes and smashing wood can be intimidating.
“The guys have no problem with us being there,” June said. “They treat us as one of the guys, basically.”
Athleticism and Danger
Jon Preston, a 22-year-old fisheries and wildlife major from Chenango Forks, said there is some risk in the sport. Ax blades and saw teeth can cut skin, too.
Athletes will take the risk, he said, and spectators like the combination of athleticism mixed with a little danger.
Preston said some people just appreciate the novelty of an outdoor meet with old-fashioned feats of power and precision.
“There are people who can chop a block of wood with an ax in under 10 seconds,” said Preston, a junior. “A lot of people don’t get to see that every day. So it’s out of the ordinary to watch.”
The athletes also love the competitive aspects. Lumber teams want to post the lowest times and score the most points, but Preston said there is never an attitude problem between teams.
“We all get along,” he said. “It’s definitely not like the bad blood you see on TV. We never get into fights; there’s never any yelling and screaming at each other.”
Northeast Outdoors Show
WHERE: Empire State Plaza Convention Center, Albany
WHEN: 4 until 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 4 through 12. Free for children 3 and under. Discount of $2 for those with Stewart’s Shops milk club cards.
MORE INFO: www.northeastoutdoorshow.com