The annual fall meet for the UNH Woodsmen team occurred at the Thompson School Sawmill on the brisk morning of Saturday, Nov. 5. The event, hosted by Campus Recreation, welcomed club teams from around the Northeast area for competition in a gamut of lumberjack events, including single and team activities, throughout the day.
Although the team is historically called the “UNH Woodsmen,” their name doesn’t quite do justice to the team’s female members; “lumberjacks” happens to be the favorite and appropriate substitute. The men and women also compete in co-ed events known as “Jack and Jill” events.
“I always did other sports growing up like baseball and stuff, but here you can win as both a team and an individual,” senior University of Maine wildlife and ecology major William Jones said.
Jones said that he heard about the lumberjack club from a flyer at a club fair in high school. He also said that he did a little work with wood growing up, such as felling and chopping wood, or as he calls it, “basic manual labor.”
The teams featured a spectrum of students from many areas and majors of the campus. This year, the teams competed for ribbons with the overall winner taking home a new toolbox, which, as you can imagine, comes in handy for lumberjacks.
“Look around at the excitement,” meet director and head judge Don Quigley said in reference to the event. Quigley is also a teacher of forest technology at the Thompson school and supervisor of the Durham Sawmill.
“The UNH Woodsmen team comes from all over campus, and what people don’t realize is it’s a grand tradition. Schools like Colby that don’t even have an [agriculture] program are here,” Quigley said. “And there are characters and support from everyone and their families too. It hardens back to the way sports used to be…We don’t need a million dollar scoreboard.”
“The ones that are good make it look easy when the ones that are bad make it look so hard,” Quigley said with a chuckle.
He also pointed out a couple of his old teammates and competitors that are still showing up to support the events, which he said demonstrates that bonds made over hacking up some wood are hard to be broken.
“There is a camaraderie here that doesn’t exist in a lot of ways,” Quigley said.
For the day’s competition, each school’s club split up into smaller groups and teams depending on who would be competing in each of the 15 events. The single events included the axe throw, the obstacle run, the bow saw, the single buck, the hard hit and the chain saw cut. Doubles events featured that day were the horizontal chop, the log roll and a fire building competition. The triples events were the triangle pulp and the chop/saw/fell. Finally, the team events involved a two-minute pulp, the bow saw, the cross cut and the log roll.
It could be said that these events are as physically draining as they are fun.
“I like the sport because it challenges you to be better. It’s a good group of competitors and everything is always changing and you have to adapt to those changes quickly,” UNH Woodsmen team coach Billy Kunelius said.
Kunelius, a UNH forestry major alum and full time worker for a local logging company, coaches the Woodsmen team
with his wife, Kendall, who is the current world champion for the women’s single buck event.
Former coach and recently retired professor of horticulture for 40 years Chris Robarge returned on Saturday to support his former team.
“It’s just you and the wood,” Robarge said. “Don’t worry about the crowd or the competition.”
This was his signature advice as it stuck with junior recreation management and policy major April O’Connell, who with her twin sister Kristina, may be two of the team’s physically smallest competitors but surely some of the toughest.
After competing in a tough horizontal chop event with her sister, April said, “It was the second time we have ever [done] it. It was tough but it was just ‘us and the wood’ and it didn’t matter, as our coach always says, ‘It’s just you and the wood.’”
April said that lumberjacking helped make her feel more physically capable and tough despite being small.
“My sister does more manly work and helps my dad with stuff like painting and I wanted to man up a little bit. I wanted to learn to be tough even when you’re small,” April said.
April initially got involved with the team when her sister joined after hearing about it from her woodshop friends.
“It’s my second semester taking woodshop but I didn’t get my passion for it until I joined the lumberjack team,” Kristina said.
Having several new members compete in events for the first time on Saturday, this is a building year for the UNH Woodsmen team. At the end of the competition, the women’s team placed third out of the four teams competing, while the men’s team placed fifth out of ten teams. The two Jack and Jill teams were third and fourth out of six teams.
On a side note, if you’re curious about what they do with the wood after the competition…they burn it.