out frBen Kniceley’s pretty sure his dad had a good laugh after the Haywood Community College graduate came away with a national title in the June 20 STIHL Timbersports Collegiate Series.

“I grew up splitting wood and stuff like that with my dad, and he’d always have to force me to go out there,” said Kniceley, who’s from Shelby.

out frOrange chaps clipped around their legs, Rankin Fender and Zac O’Connor square off inside the sawdust-and-bark-filled woodshed at Haywood Community College. Late afternoon sunlight angles through the lean-to’s open walls, and the two students each grab hold of one handle of a razor-sharp crosscut saw. They slide the blunt end back and forth along the bolted-down log between them, marking out a groove.  

“Timer ready? Sawyers ready?” asks Ethan Bolick, a seasoned member of the HCC timbersports team. “Three, two, one, go!” 

out frDana Dowdy raised a razor-sharp axe above her head, let it hover a moment and then slammed into her competition with the first of many swift, deft blows. 

The throngs of cheering people on the sidelines became background noise. The other lumberjills looking on weren’t her concern either. Today, her beef was with the large, stubborn block of wood between her feet.

By Michael Beadle

Jay Blackburn never figured he’d be competing against the best axe-chopping, saw-cutting athletes in the country when he enrolled at Haywood Community College two years ago. Now he’s planning to pursue a career as a timber sports athlete.

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