BEACON FALLS — Woodland High junior Bailey Dragon didn’t need much convincing from teacher Bobby Murdy in the fall to join the school’s new timber sports team.
“He asked, ‘Have you ever heard of timber sports? It’s like competitive ax throwing and sawing,’” Dragon said of his conversation with the timber team’s adviser. “I thought that sounded pretty cool, so here I am.”
After an entire school year’s worth of practice, Woodland hosted its first Axe Games competition May 19 on the school’s soccer field. The Hawks welcomed the state’s only other high school timber team, Wamogo, in an event that included not just the main attraction of ax throwing, but also crosscutting, bow sawing and log rolling.
For those like Dragon — and there were many besides him who have never played a competitive sport at Woodland — the atmosphere with 200-plus spectators was a different experience than anything they’ve seen before.
“I’ve never had to be here for any sort of event like this, so it’s a new experience between the crowd and working under pressure,” said Dragon, who added that students throughout the school have been talking about the team.
Murdy sought to start Woodland’s timber team last year after seeing Wamogo’s team in action at a local fair. After convincing the administration to begin a club, he had to find a way to recruit members and secure equipment.
“We probably had 14 dedicated kids,” Murdy said. “We started with ax throwing because that’s what we had. We’ve been slowly getting equipment. As everyone else saw what we’re doing, we’ve been building up excitement.”
Since Region 16 doesn’t provide funding to first-year clubs, all of Woodland’s equipment has come through donations and fundraising. Stihl, which now has its regional headquarters in Oxford, donated steel stands to hold logs, peavey tools for log rolling, and uniforms.
With more equipment and interest, the program boasts more than 30 members. Over the last few months, Murdy has found that the team members have developed different interests.
“Everyone loves ax throwing at first because it’s ax throwing, you know?” Murdy said. “We have a lot of pairs that love crosscutting. It’s the most technical thing we do. Especially Bailey and Maddisyn (Mircsey, who placed second in the Jack-and-Jill crosscut last Friday), that’s their thing. But we have a couple of kids who really like log rolling, so it’s about whatever they feel.”
Dragon said the crosscutting event, which involves a teammate at each end of a long-toothed saw, is his favorite because of the teamwork and technicality involved.
“Rather than worrying about yourself all the time, you have someone else to work with to help you,” Dragon said. “It’s definitely finesse. You can’t muscle your way through anything. If you try to muscle a saw, you will bend the blade and destroy a thousand-dollar saw.”
Murdy and his team may have started from scratch, but they didn’t begin without help. Wamogo’s team, under adviser Chris Brittain, has been established for several years. Murdy sought his advice, as well as that of former world champion lumberjill Shannon Strong, to help build the program.
“They’ve been an immense help,” Murdy said. “Shannon’s come to our school a couple of times to help train us. Some of their students have come down to train us. Their adviser, Chris Brittain, has been integral in terms of the logistics and how I needed to set it up at the school. Even at our first competition, they were training us. They are awesome competition and great partners.”
Strong, a Warren resident who volunteers with Wamogo’s team, served as the announcer and facilitator of last Friday’s event.
Both teams hope that other schools create their own timber sports programs soon. For Woodland’s rookie team, Murdy was thrilled with the way his group competed against a more seasoned squad.
“Despite the fact that they have six years on us, I think (we gave) them a run for their money,” Murdy said. “I’m proud of the size of our team, I love the community support and I couldn’t be happier.”