Logging rodeo athletes show off their saw skills

It’s match day for the South Kitsap High School tennis team on a hot autumn afternoon.

The sun beaming, players take their spots on the court as onlookers prepare for the sights and sounds of tennis matches.

But in the background, behind the tennis courts, lurks a sight and sound that distracts attention from the tennis match. On closer inspection, two teenage girls can be seen sawing a large log into small pieces.

But these athletes aren’t laying in firewood for the winter — they’re striving for perfection in one of many competitions that take place in a logging rodeo.

Along with 12 other teammates, the SK logging rodeo team is under the watchful eyes of SK instructor Gary Vetter, a veteran logging rodeo coach of more than 20 years.

After taking a couple of years off, Vetter is back coaching this club sport and is hoping to bring the program back to its former prominence.

In Vetters 20 years as the SK coach, the logging rodeo team enjoyed seven state titles, but hasn’t won a state title since 1994.

Though logging rodeo is not sanctioned by the WIAA, the popularity of the sport continues to grow.

Last year, 14 schools (a total of 140 athletes) participated in the state competition.

Logging rodeo events include poll-climbing, log-rolling, handsaw-bucking, speed log chop, ax throw, log toss, and chainsaw speed cuts, to name a few.

Experience is not necessary to join the logging rodeo team, but Vetter expects just as much dedication from his team members as the coach of any other sports team would from his athletes.

Vetter said it doesn’t take much to get kids to come out and see what logging rodeo is about. “It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve been doing this my whole teaching career and I still enjoy it.”

A native of the tiny logging town of Raymond, Vetter said the logging lifestyle is in his blood. But it is the teaching of newcomers that keeps him motivated.

“It gives the kids who normally don’t play other sports in the fall another activity to participate in and still be competitive,” Vetter said.

Like any other sport, it takes many hours of practice to learn the how to do the various events. Vetter said doing the events well has nothing to do with physical strength.

“I had a football player try one of the events and he couldn’t even finish because he was so tired,” Vetter said. “It takes balance, hand-eye coordination and technique.”

It’s the athlete who conserves and channels his or her strength properly that comes out on top.

“The objective is to do it with the least amount of strength,” he said. “It takes skill, repetition, and endurance.”

One thing Vetter is quick to dispel is the chance of injury. While it looks dangerous to outsiders, Vetter said safety and responsibility is always imbedded in the athletes’ heads.

“In my 20 years of coaching, I’ve not had one accident,” he said.

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