By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
---- — Axes, chainsaws and a whole lot of wood will be coming to Cooperstown this summer.
The Stihl Timbersports Series has announced that, for the first time, it will be holding its Professional Northeast Qualifier in Cooperstown. The event will take place on June 7.
Stihl is a leading manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, including chain saws.
“We’re really excited to bring something new to their region,” said Brad Sorgen, executive producer of Stihl Timbersports.
The series is a worldwide lumberjack competition first established in 1985. The competition consists of six different lumberjack disciplines: hot saw, stock saw, single buck, springboard chop, standing block chop, and underhand chop. Competitors compete in all six disciplines, three of which are sawing and three of which are chopping, to determine the best all-around competitor.
“We took a look at all of the events that are in the lumberjack realm,” said Sorgen, in discussing how the events and format were originally selected.
The series is one of the longest running programs on ESPN, second only to SportsCenter. A total of $200,000 worth of prize money is awarded each year in the United States.
The series uses white pine. The logs for each event are uniform in diameter, to ensure a level playing field for competition and determining world records.
“The biggest thing we have going for us is the quality of the wood,” said Sorgen, who noted that all the logs used in the series come from a tree farm Stihl owns in Ohio.
Sorgen also pointed to the timing system used in the series, saying that it is the same system used at the Olympics for timing swimming and running.
“Our system is extremely high tech,” said Sorgen. “The events come down to the hundredth and the thousandth of a second.”
Sorgen says that Stihl receives hundreds of applications each year to participate in its series. Out of these applications, 40 U.S. competitors are selected and ranked. These competitors are then evenly divided between four regions: northeast, south, west and mid-Atlantic. This sets the stage for the competitors to compete against one another in regional qualifiers of 10 athletes each, with the top five athletes in each qualifier earning the right to compete in the U.S. Championship.
“You’ve got ten athletes looking to fight for a chance to go to the national championship,” said Sorgen, on the Cooperstown qualifier.
Sorgen said that while most of the athletes in the regional qualifiers are from the region they are trying to qualify in, athletes are sometimes moved in order to ensure good competition.
“We wanted to be around a region that had some historical significance,” said Sorgen, on why Cooperstown was picked to host the Northeast Qualifier this year.
He also said that details on the exact venue are still being finalized.
The U.S. championship will be held in Norfolk, Va. from June 20 to June 22. The winner of the U.S. Championship, in addition to prize money and a Dodge Ram truck, gets to represent the United States in the Word Championship against the champions of more than 20 other nations. The World Championship competition is typically held in Europe, and will take place in Austria this year.
U.S. Champion, Matt Cogar, won the silver medal at the 2013 World Championship.
In addition to the professional series, there is also a college competition, with 62 colleges participating. The Collegiate Championship will also take place from June 20 to 22 in Norfolk.
Four-time U.S. Champion Arden Cogar Jr., of West Hamlin W.V., has already been announced as a competitor who will be coming to Cooperstown.
Cogar, 43, has been competing in the series since 1987 when he was 17. His greatest success, however, has been in recent years, having won the U.S. Championship in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012. In 2013, 2010, 2008 he finished second, losing in 2013 to Matt Cogar, his 26-year-old cousin.
Although Cogar has represented the U.S. at the World Championships four times, he has yet to make the podium there.
Cogar said that much of the sport centers on technique and finesse, enabling him to improve in middle age.
“I liken it to playing golf,” said Cogar. “Strength does not hurt, but timing and technique is more important.”
Cogar’s father made the series finals when he was 60 years old and, in his 80s, still competes in other timber sports competitions. Cogar said making the finals at 60 himself is a personal goal.
“I’ll be giving these young boys fits for a long time,” he said.
In addition to his father, both Cogar’s wife and two daughters compete in timber sports, and the family has been involved in lumberjack competitions for four generations. Cogar said that 20 members of the family compete, and four will be in the Stihl series this year.
Cogar works as a civil defense trial lawyer. He said that his profession is mentally draining, and that training helps give him a release.
“There’s nothing more exhilarating and satisfying then going over to my barn and beating … a piece of wood that can’t hit me back,” he said.
Another thing that Cogar attributes his success to is the support of his wife, who he said arranged for a training facility to be built for him and has supported him in his efforts to train and compete.
“She enabled me to become better,” he said.
The ability to devote more time to training is one of the reasons Cogar believes he has been able to perform so well in recent years.
“It’s nothing for me to cut ten logs a (training) session,” said Cogar, compared to when he would cut two or three logs a session when he was in his 20s. “I’m training more than I used to because I have the ability to do it.”
The Cooperstown tournament is also going to be a bit of a full circle experience for Cogar. He said that after his first wood chopping competition, which he participated in at the age of 12 in upstate New York, his father took him to Cooperstown to see the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
As for the competition itself, Cogar said he is confident that he will be among the five competitors from the Northeast Qualifier who will go on to the U.S. Championship.
“I have no doubt that I will advance,” he said.
Cogar said he felt most confident in the single buck and in the three chopping events.
“All things being equal people will have a hard time beating me in the chopping events,” he said.
Cogar says that he thinks that Dave Jewett, of Pittsford N.Y., will be fighting him for first place at this year’s Northeast Qualifier. As for who the other three competitors will be who move on, Cogar says that he thinks it is anyone’s game.
“That’s going to be the real drama,” he said.
Sorgen said that the Northeast produces many very strong timber sports athletes.
“The Northeast is actually our hotbed of athletics,” said Sorgen.
“I anticipate the event in Cooperstown to be one of our tightest races.”
Cogar singled out New York specifically for praise, noting the strong programs at a number of the state’s colleges.
“New York State has the largest collection of extremely talented (young) timber sports athletes,” he said.
In addition to the individual event at the U.S. Championship, four-man relay teams from each region will also compete against one another to determine the best region.
“The northeast is going to be a lot better with me up there,” Cogar said.
The series will be broadcast on ABC, in a programming block that highlights other extreme sporting events, such as those run by Red Bull and the X Games.
“There’s definitely going to be some exposure for Cooperstown on the ABC broadcast,” Sorgen said.
He also said he thinks the broadcast, which will air at 5 p.m. on the last two Sundays in September and the first Sunday in October, has the potential to increase interest in timber sports.
“The second you put us in the national spotlight there’s going to be a ground swell of people who for better or worse want to go in the backyard with an ax and do exactly what they did on TV,” said Sorgen.
As for those who want to get involved in the sport, Sorgen advises those interested to go and watch regional and local timber sports competitions, and to reach out to the competitors. He said that a typical ax can cost $500, while saws cost significantly more, but that networking can help to alleviate some of the cost of entry.
“The first thing you need to do is watch the competition, ask questions, go down there and talk to the athletes,” he said.