WATERVILLE — With concentration and a sturdy grip of a chainsaw, Colby College freshman Julia Dunlavey swiftly sliced through a vertical log, creating a stack of inch-thick slices.
The goal of Disc Stack, one of about a dozen competitive woodsman events, is to stack as many wooded slices, or cookies, on top of one another without knocking any off.
“I’m just learning how to do that,” Dunlavey said. “It’s really hard.”
Dunlavey, along with the rest of about two dozen Colby students on the woodsman team, were working on technique, form, repetition and power Thursday and Friday afternoon, gearing up for the annual Mud Meet on Saturday, April 12. Since 2007, it has been the only competition on the northeast college circuit that is co-ed — each competing team must comprise three men and three women.
Colby College typically has three teams for meets, as well as an alumni team that competes.
With the annual spring championship meet at State University of New York at Cobleskill two weeks after the Mud Meet, all competitors enjoy the laid back, casual meet, according to Colby College coach Dave Smith.
“That’s why we continued doing it, we ask for feedback and a lot of people really enjoy it,” said Smith, who has coached the Colby woodsman team since 1989. “It’s more of a relaxed meet, where the competitors can get some formal practice in before the spring meet.”
With more than 60 years of competitive woodsman competitions between colleges in the northeast, woodsman or outdoors teams are a staple of college extracurriculars, especially in heavily wooded areas like Maine.
“The northeast is probably the most active area in the country for woodsman,” said Smith, who is fire chief for the Unity Fire Department. “There are a couple other pockets, but places with woodsman teams are typically places with logging history.”
Woodsman competitions between lumber or logging companies pre-date college competition, the first of which occurred in 1947 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Smith said.
Just about every woodsman event, ranging from the pole climb, to different techniques for wood sawing and chopping, are necessary methods of work for logging and lumber occupations.
“Pretty much every event we do is related to a specific job or type of work done in the woods,” said Smith, who first started competing in woodsman competitions while at Unity College in the mid 1980s. “One traditional event from woodsman games that isn’t job related is the ax throw. The ax throw was mostly to show off.”
Drew Mealor, a senior at Colby from Anchorage, Alaska, joined the woodsman team during his first week of freshman year after watching a practice.
“I just thought it was awesome,” he said. “You get to be outside and it’s good stress relief. I like having a place to go outside where I can chop wood with some axes.
“When I first joined I was into the ax throw, which is true for a lot of people. But I was terrible at it.”
Instead, Mealor migrated to the vertical chop, which is when a log is upright and the competitor swings at it, eventually chopping it in half, pole climbing and birling, which is a log rolling competition in which two people compete to stay balanced atop a rolling log.
Beyond the basic camaraderie and teamwork extracurriculars provide, Mealor sees a real-world use to the events.
“On a practical level, you learn how to use tools, which is important no matter what you do,” he said.
Dunlavey, a freshman from Natick, Mass., said the woodsman team wasn’t the reason she came to Colby, but it was an appealing option.
“It was something that I looked at and thought, âOh that’s cool,'” she said. “Thought it’d be nice to be around like-minded people who appreciated the outdoors like I do.”
Like Mealor, Dunlavey participates in the vertical chop, but is hoping to learn horizontal chop, which is when a competitor is standing atop a horizontal log and swings downward to chop it in half.
The annual Mud Meet, which is held every spring on Colby College’s campus off Washington Street, turned exclusively into a co-ed meet in 2007. At least half a dozen schools will participate, including Unity College, Darmouth College, University of Maine and University of New Hampshire.
The mixed squads help with teamwork and camaraderie, according to Mealor.
“It forces you all to work together,” he said. “At Colby we typically practice as a whole team anyway, but I know some schools don’t.”
At last year’s Mud Meet, the Colby A squad finished first while Colby B finished third, The Unity College A team came in second.
While Smith is hoping for a positive outcome for his team at both the Mud Meet and the spring meet, he doesn’t coach to be victorious at every meet.
“I’d love to see us win, but I don’t like pressuring anybody,” he said. “I’m different in my attitude, it’s not win, win, win. I want people to have an enjoyable time and learn skills they wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn.”
Mealor said when he looks back at his time at Colby, the experience with the woodsman team will stick out.
“It is really important to a lot of us,” he said. “I think when I look back, the woodsman team will be a highlight.”