ESPN cameras will bring a national television audience to the Cobleskill Fairgrounds today to experience the sights and sounds of lumberjack sports.
The cable sports station will be broadcasting the Northeast regional qualifying round of the STIHL Timbersports Series, hosted for the first time by SUNY Cobleskill. The event will feature both professional and collegiate athletes competing for the chance to participate in the U.S. Championship STIHL Timbersports Series at the Oregon State Fair Aug. 26-28.
Kyle Denter, from Delmar, is a member of SUNY Cobleskill’s co-ed Woodsmen’s Team. When he was in high school, he never had time for sports, but when he got to college, he was drawn to the traditional appeal of lumberjack sports. He said the competition to get to Oregon will be stiff on the collegiate side today, but he’s hopeful he has a chance to advance. He said either way it will be fun to compete in the same event as professional lumberjack athletes.
“It’s going to be a blast,” he said Friday.
On Friday, college lumberjack teams competed at the Cobleskill Fairgrounds in what could be described as essentially “relay” or team events, featuring multiple athletes from each school competing in events like the bow saw, the cross cut, the log roll, the pulp toss, wood splitting and fire building.
Denter competed in the pulp toss Friday, which he described as kind of like horseshoes for lumberjacks.
In the pulp toss, each team attempted to throw a total of 48 wooden logs in between two stakes in the ground in a race to see which team could do it the fastest. Each member of the team attempts to throw four logs 20 feet between two stakes. Then a teammate throws the logs back between another set of stakes. Team members rotate until 48 logs are successfully thrown between the stakes.
Friday, Denter was up twice in the rotation and landed eight logs.
“This was pretty much a perfect day for me,” he said.
Today, athletes will compete in a six-discipline wood-chopping competition, featuring the “hot saw,” single buck, springboard chop, standing block chop, stock saw and underhand chop. The events are essentially races to cut wood using different techniques and tools. Ten professional lumberjacks will vie today for four slots out of the Northeast round to compete in the national event in Oregon in August.
Robin Applebaum, a spokeswoman for the STIHL Timbersports Series, said that this year, for the first time, her organization has chosen to have its college and professional regional qualifying events together on the same day on five college campuses throughout the spring. She said the top college athlete from each event, plus an additional wildcard college athlete, will advance to the national event in Oregon. The collegiate champion in Oregon wins a spot in the 2012 professional series. The winner of each regional qualifying event will also receive a $1,000 scholarship.
“We’re really growing the sport and opening it up to more competitors. This even gives the collegiate guys a chance to see the pros doing it, and hopefully the collegiate guys will become the pros of tomorrow. This really provides them an opportunity that many of them don’t get to see,” she said.
Nathan Waterfield from Cherry Valley in Otsego County is one of the professional lumberjack athletes competing today. He’s also an assistant coach for the SUNY Cobleskill team. He said he’s traveled as far as Austrialia, Spain and New Zealand for lumberjack tournaments. The cash prizes at the events can range from $30 to $5,000. He said he started the sport in college and has been doing it for about six years.
“It’s a hobby that becomes an obsession,” he said.
Waterfield said one of the fan favorite events today will be the hot saw, which he said is somewhat like the “funny car” lumberjack event. He said for the hot saw, he will be using a 65-pound chainsaw made from half of a snowmobile motor.
“It has about 60 horsepower and spins at about 10,000 rpms. When we do that event, we make three cuts through a 19-inch piece of white pine and we do it from a cold start in about six to 10 seconds,” he said.
There is no professional competition for women today, but STIHL did host a collegiate women’s competition at the fairgrounds Friday, with the top prize being a $500 scholarship.
Dana Harenda from West Clarksville in Allegany County competed as one of the members of Cobleskill’s co-ed team. She was part of the bow saw relay team and competed in a T-shirt, blue jeans and soccer cleats. She said she played soccer in high school, but she enjoys lumberjack sports even more.
“It’s more ‘homey’, I think,” she said. “I like that it’s co-ed and the skills you use are actually useful. I live in the middle of western New York, so it’s good to know how to cut wood.”