by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
The Warren Wilson Timbersports team arrived at their last meet of the year, the Tennessee Stud in Knoxville, in two small cars. Forest Manager Shawn Swartz, who coaches the team, arrived alongside in his Prius. The teams from the five other schools that were also competing, on the other hand, showed up in loud, heavy duty diesel trucks.
“So, where are you guys from?”
This is the biggest question the Warren Wilson timbersports team receives at meets.
The ten or so people that make up the team stick out from the other students at the meets.
“We’re definitely Wilson students,” said junior and co-captain Caleb Hawkins. “But at least you’re catching their eye.”
Last weekend, Hawkins won the Regional Stihl Mid-Atlantic Qualifier, beating representatives from seven other schools, including Pennsylvania State University and West Virginia University.
The Warren Wilson Timbersports team is the newest college team on the scene. It was created just earlier this school year by sophomore Frankie Secret and after only three meets, the team has been steadily progressing and gaining recognition. But at meets, the Wilson team stands out not just because they’re new to the sport.
“We definitely look like Wilson wherever we show up,” Hawkins said. “The other schools’ teams don’t really know what to make of us.”
Senior Xenia Pantos who is on the team has attended two of the three meets this year. During these meets, she has also noticed a difference between the Wilson team and the other college’s teams.
“We heard one girl complain about how she couldn’t use the N-word,” Pantos said. “The casual racism and sexism and homophobia is crazy.”
These cultural differences were most apparent at the Tennessee Stud, the team’s last meet of the season in Knoxville, where all the teams were camping together during the competition weekend.
“There were some fairly sexist jokes being thrown around,” Hawkins said. “The cultural expectations of them are a little lower than what we push for here at Wilson. When we get outside of our bubble we can be caught off guard by the real world. It’s really interesting to get Wilson students out of their bubble and see how they handle it, and see how the people outside our bubble handle us in turn.”
However, the teams from the other schools practice good sportsmanship during the meets.
During Warren Wilson’s first meet, the Cradle of Forestry hosted by Haywood Community College, the team placed in very few events, coming in 5th place out of six teams. The team was underprepared and did not have the appropriate equipment for the events. The other schools, however, lent equipment to the Wilson team, and coached the students through events when they were in last place.
“Everyone was so supportive,” said Pantos. “I think it’s important to keep in mind that the cultures of those schools that we’re interacting with and the culture we have here are so totally different. Overall the people we’ve interacted with have been really warm and friendly and excited to interact with us. That’s a really wonderful thing that’s coming out of this, maybe it’s breaking down barriers. Yes it’s crazy culture shock but, one-on-one, I’ve had a lot of positive interactions.”
Though our small, private, liberal arts college may differ from larger universities, especially those with more traditional forestry programs, the teams nonetheless find some common ground, said Shawn Swartz.
“One of the most powerful things I find about our team is that once we bring the students together from various programs they find much more in common than they originally thought,” Swartz said.
Timbersports originated from loggers showing off their skills acquired from their line of work, and competing against each other. Swartz grew up watching timbersports, and attended Haywood Community College, a “national powerhouse in collegiate timbersports.” Since coming to Wilson he has been trying to help students start a team.
“Here at Warren Wilson, I have been telling my students for years that we could have a team here, and that I and Haywood would be available for coaching and support, but that it would take a student, or a few students, to take charge, generate enthusiasm for a team and make it happen,” he said.
No one has taken this on until Frankie Secret stepped up to the plate.
“I wanted to start a team at Warren Wilson because I believed that Timbersports would be a good fit, that the students here would excel in the sport and be committed,” Secret said.
Both Pantos and Hawkins are on the Forestry Crew, and they enjoy applying what they have learned on the job to the sport.
“I think it’s really cool to have a sport that has real world application,” said Pantos. “I chainsaw at work and I chainsaw at timbersports.”
Hawkins has been swinging axes since he was little.
“My first homework was splitting wood in the third or fourth grade,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. If it’s something I enjoy doing for work, why not do it for fun too?”
In addition to winning the qualifier, Hawkins also won a $1,000 scholarship for school from Stihl. He has six weeks to prepare for the Collegiate Championships, which will be held June 7-9 in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
“I’m not nervous right now but I want to step up my game,” he said. “I got a lot of work to do before I compete.”
Mike Slyngerlind, who has been competing at the professional level for more than 30 years, has invited Hawkins to train with him before the Collegiate Championships. Hawkins and Secret both met Slynderlind through Swartz when they went to Rockwell, NC to train with him about a month ago.
The team began their first season by watching YouTube timbersports videos of professionals eight months ago, and now they are sending a representative to the Championships.
“It shows the potential Wilson’s got,” Hawkins said. “Between the Tennessee Stud and the qualifier we’ve proven that Wilson is on the scene and that we’re a contender—we’re someone they’ll have to watch out for. If we were getting our butts kicked they wouldn’t be quite as concerned about where we were from.