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Axe And You Shall Receive: Minarets Timber Team

Justin (L) Hough and (R) Paul Hough with the newly completed stage at North Fork Rec

O’NEALS — Great news out of Minarets High School and in North Fork, as Precision Axes of Mariposa is sponsoring a team of male and female athletes who will compete in timber as a varsity sport. Right now, they’re getting ready for the Loggers Jamboree.

“It’s a reality!” says North Fork resident and Minarets parent Deborah Hough. “We are happy to announce that there is an official timber team and they will be competing in the junior axe throw at the 2018 Loggers Jamboree.”

The 59th Annual Mid-Sierra Loggers Jamboree will take place July 7 – 8 at the North Fork Rec Center, with three exciting new events planned for this year: springboard chop, speed axe throw, and unlimited hot saw with dirt bike motors.

“Precision has generously donated ten entry fees for the Logger’s Jamboree, and contestant-team shirts. We are extremely grateful for the sponsorship.”

Craig Pinkerton, founder and CEO of Precision Axes in Mariposa. at the 2015 Loggers Jamboree

Precision Axes is a family-owned small business making handcrafted competition axes. Five generations of the family have lived and worked in the forest, and the Loggers Jamboree is part of their lifestyle: the company founded by Craig Pinkerton, CEO, is dedicated to preserving the traditional skills of the lumberjack. This is right up their tree.

The Minarets Precision team is being coached under international competitor Nate Hodges, winner of the 2017 All Around Logger at the Mid-Sierra Loggers Jamboree. Nate has earned the title nine times over the years. Meanwhile, there’s been a lot going on over at the Rec Center in preparation for the big event.

The 11-acre site of the North Fork Recreation Center sits along Willow Creek, and was purchased in the late 1950s by the North Fork Boosters for the community. Traditionally the Jamboree, now a mainstay of the summer season, raises money to support and improve the Rec Center and Town Hall.

Increasingly, Minarets has been tied to the event.

Justin Hough’s SLE at Minarets: replacing the stage at the Rec Center

Deborah Hough, née Pennington, grew up spending lots of time at the Rec Center. A short thirty-one years ago she ran for Queen of the Loggers Jamboree. She moved away, married Paul Hough, moved back to North Fork and their kids have grown up here, too: daughter Katelyn Hough followed in mom’s footsteps last year, running for queen, and son Justin has worked as a lifeguard for many summers.

Now Katelyn, along with sons Mason and Ryan, are on the newly formed timber team at Minarets.

Justin graduated from Minarets this year and his Senior Legacy Experience (SLE) project was all about the Rec. Scheduled for the same day as the traditional Rec Center clean-up back in May, Justin’s SLE was broad in scope and effective in action.

Nate Hodges congratulates congratulates Malachi Valenzuela, who had never picked up an axe before — winning a sharp tool from Precision Axe for his efforts

With plenty of help courtesy of a local lumber store, a construction company, electrician, classmates and community members, Justin demolished and rebuilt the stage for the Rec Center, after raising money for the lumber. It’s approximately 10-feet by 22-feet with new steps and handrail. It’s also prepared for a roof for shade which Boosters hope to see installed in the next few months, Deborah says.

The demo and construction were completed that weekend, and volunteer efforts were topped off by dinner and a group training in axe throw with Nate Hodges, followed by a mini-jamboree so the young people could get a feel for what competition would be like. 

The day was a success and the result is a spankin’ new stage at the Rec Center, and Precision Axe’s willingness to sponsor the team.  And Nate agreed to do some more coaching. This turn of events is something organizers have been working on since last year, so it’s special to see it come together.

“It’s exciting,” Nate says. “I have lots of passion for the sport, and seeing younger people involved helps keep it going and gets them excited, too. They can train properly before shows, and make it more of a sport. I’m looking forward to seeing it continue.”

The decline of logging in the area has led to a natural decline in the number of participants in the Mid-Sierra Loggers Jamboree. Worldwide, though, lumberjack is a popular sport.

Nate says it’s been outstanding to work with the nascent team in training, and he really appreciates how many were able to give it their all. A few of the team members have built targets at home so they can practice when the opportunity strikes.

It’s awesome!” the champ enthuses, talking about both the team specifically and tlumberjack competition in general. “There is quite a wide variety of different events involved in the sport. Just in North Fork, events include hot saw, log rolling, choker racing, axe throw, speed axe throw, spring board and single bucking. It’s fun and takes quite a bit of technique. College teams love it.”

Key elements to being successful at lumberjack or timber sports include strength, hand-eye coordination, technical abilities and great overall athletic prowess. In many ways, it’s like any other sport in terms of athletic requirements. In other ways, it’s very different — a competition such as the Logger’s Jamboree will find participants log rolling one minute and pulling a cross cut saw the next — two events that have really nothing in common with one another.

“This year at the Logger’s Jamboree, the Minarets/Precision team will be doing the junior axe throw and any of them can do the log roll — and I would love to see them, do that. Right now, they’re focused on the axe throw.”

Interestingly, Nate says the most challenging part for the students involves seeing their own potential. The father of three girls has spent some time coaching softball, another passion, and he’s seen this phenomenon plenty of times.

“I see a lot of potential for these kid, but often they don’t realize they have the ability, They’re nervous at first, and it’s about getting them comfortable and unlocking their potential. They’ve never done it before, they get an axe, this is crazy! As a coach I try to get them to just be comfortable, relax and shake it off. I’ve been there, done that. It’s scary. I’ve been coaching myself for fifteen years and I know it’s good to have somebody reinforcing you.”

There are ten students who will compete in the junior axe throw at the Loggers Jamboree, and likely more who will participate on the team during the school year. One of the interesting things, Nate points out, is that the sport is equally available to both young men and young women. That’s a plus for Nate, especially considering he’s the father of three girls, and his girlfriend has three girls, as well. Professionally and on a local level, the sport has transitioned to include women in the last couple of decades, and they’re really getting involved.

Involvement and tradition are a theme that runs through the team, the Rec Center and the Loggers Jamboree. Nate carries it, too.

“I have so much passion for the sport that I would basically do anything possible to keep it alive,” Nate confides. “To keep the young kids interested in lumberjack is great. They will be the ones out there in twenty or thirty years, still doing it.”

Some of these Minarets students who helped at the Rec Center are on the new Minarets Precision Timber Team

Ken Goodwin of Goodwin Lumber offered his lumber at cost for the project, and billed for it so fundraising can continue — with Paul Hough

“It’s All About The Rec” As Generations Enjoy Loggers Jamboree

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