June 1, 2007

Lumberjack serious about sport he loves


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Lumberjack Will Roberts, of Groton, will compete in the third Annual Crown City Lumberjack Invitational this weekend at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex.
Below, Roberts practices chopping through a 10-inch log, one of the events at this weekend’s competition. Lumberjack  

Staff Reporter

GROTON — Will Roberts started timber sports his freshman year of college, when he found out it was the only sports team his school offered.
Six years later, he is traveling around the country each weekend for competitions, spending months at a time in Australia and New Zealand, the lumberjack capitals of the world, and planning his career around the sport.
“It’s like a serious hobby,” said Roberts, a 24-year-old SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry grad who lives in Groton. “In order to get to the level I want, you’ve got to put in a lot the first few years.”
Roberts is expected to be among 22 lumberjacks from the United States, Canada and Australia participating in Saturday’s third Annual Crown City Lumberjack Invitational in Cortlandville.
Roberts said he has been in approximately 80 competitions so far, about 20 of them in college, 20 competing professionally last summer, 40 while in Australia and New Zealand from December to April and two so far since he got back.
He said the only overall competition he has won was the Stihl Timbersports Collegiate Challenge in 2005, where he competed against the 12 best collegiate lumberjacks from all over the country.
Roberts has qualified for this year’s Stihl Timbersports Series, a three-weekend competition which will begin June 9-10 in Iowa and consist of 32 professional lumberjacks. Dave Engasser, a Virgil resident, also will be participating in the series.
Roberts said during his lumberjack career he has won at least 10 individual events, though he does not know how many exactly.
Peg Engasser, who has won her fair share of timber sport competitions and has known Roberts for the last six years, said Roberts has come a long way and has strong potential.
“He’s just a natural athlete, and he picked up on the skills very fast,” said Engasser, who is married to Dave Engasser. “It just sort of came to him actually. With just a little bit of help he’s just gotten really good, really quickly. He’s just in his young 20s — he’s got a long future in front of him.”
Roberts works odd jobs, including selling beds he’s made out of logs and helping out at his parents’ Christmas tree farm — the Roberts Family Tree Farm.
He said he hopes to start a log cabin-making business with a friend within the few years and start doing forestry consulting work, jobs that will continue to give him flexibility to compete.
“We can’t get a real job because of our busy schedules,” he said. “Basically self-employment.”
On Thursday, in the backyard of his home, Roberts demonstrated how he chops a standing block of Scotch pine 11 inches in diameter. He threw all of his energy into each swing, alternating between high swings hitting one part of the block and low swings hitting a part about half a foot lower.
Unlike other sports he has played, such as basketball and soccer, chopping a standing block requires a burst of intensity during a 20- or 30-second period, he said.
“This is more exerting because you put everything into it at one time,” he said, noting it is a lot like sprinting.
While strength is clearly important to chopping through the block as quickly as possible, technique and rhythm are even more important, he said.
Another timber sports event involves standing on a block of wood and chopping it between one’s legs, while another event involves climbing the height of 9-foot poll using just an axe and wooden planks before standing on the last plank and chopping through a log at the top of the pole.
Both events will be part of Saturday’s competition, where Roberts said he hopes to place in the top five of every event.
Roberts is coming off a weekend in West Virginia where he made a personal best time chopping a standing block of white pine with a 12-inch diameter in 23 seconds. He placed seventh out of between 20 and 30 competitors, he said.


Crown City Lumberjack Invitational

The third annual competition is scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex at 4292 Fairgrounds Road in Cortlandville.
The event, which was started by Virgil lumberjacks Dave and Peg Engasser, opens to the public at 11 a.m. There is a charge for admission.
It will consist of 11 different events, including wood chopping, hand sawing and chain sawing events.
Defending champions are Matt Bush, with the men’s title, and Peg Engasser, with the woman’s title.
Several of the participants, including Dave Engasser and Will Roberts, will be competing in the ESPN Stihl Timbersports Series this summer.
Peg Engasser said 800 people attended the event the first year, and substantially fewer attended the event the second year as a result of conflicting events, such as SUNY Cortland’s graduation. She said she hopes at least 800 will show up this year.


State recognizes local schools as ‘high-performing’

Staff Reporter

Two school districts, eight elementary schools and one secondary school in the area received the rating of “High-Performing/Gap-Closing” under the No Child Left Behind Act, according to information released Thursday by the state.
Three elementary schools and one school district were recognized as schools that are rapidly improving.
High-performing schools are those that met the state standards in English and math and made adequate yearly progress, defined by the state Education Department each year, for two consecutive years.
Rapidly improving schools are schools that performed below state standards in one or more subjects but showed improvement in 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Cincinnatus Elementary School was one school recognized as a high-performing school. Principal Renee Carpenter said that this year, 81 percent of fourth-graders passed the state English assessment.
“A lot of the progress we’re making is a combination of efforts,” Carpenter said. Early intervention strategies started with the addition of universal pre-kindergarten with 18 students in 2002-01, and the next year another section was added and 38 students were served.
The district also has a reading recovery program for kindergarteners and first-graders and a language specialist that works with universal pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. There is also a first- and second-grade looping program, in which one teacher teaches the same students for two years.
“Our teachers are very innovative,” said Carpenter. She said there is a focus team for fourth grade that prepares students for specific aspects of the assessments, such as comprehension.
Learning labs, just started this year, also focus on specific areas. Carpenter said the next step for the district will be focusing on special education students and improving those scores. That focus started this year and will include involving special education teachers in the scoring process. Carpenter said last year and this year Cincinnatus teachers scored assessments locally, allowing teachers to immediately see trends and possible gaps in instruction.
“We recognize that our students need to feel like they belong,” said Carpenter, even as the district focuses on academics. She said making children feel safe, building a sense of community, giving students choices and working in groups is also important in the process of raising achievement. Carpenter said parents have also been very supportive.
“We have work to do. We know we can do better. Each year we’re going to strive for greater levels of achievements,” Carpenter said.
Under the high-performing category, statewide 48 percent of eligible schools and 42 percent of eligible districts were recognized. A total of 1,120 elementary, 301 middle and 251 high schools were recognized.
McGraw district and elementary school was recognized as a rapidly improving school. Superintendent of Schools Maria S. Fragnoli-Ryan said the district is in the process of doing several things to improve scores by improving reading ability.
“We are doing ability grouping for reading instruction only,” Fragnoli-Ryan said. “The teachers have convinced me that it is necessary.”
This separates elementary students into ability groups and makes it easier to move students into the next level.
At the elementary level every child is undergoing a developmental reading assessment from kindergarten through sixth grade that had previously been done only through third grade. Reading instruction at a specific time has been added for fifth and six grades. Reading had been folded into the other subjects. “That makes a difference,” Fragnoli-Ryan said.
Fragnoli-Ryan said next year a literacy audit will be conducted through BOCES on every student, kindergarten through 12th grade.
Under the rapidly improving category, statewide 6 percent of eligible schools and 4 percent of eligible districts were recognized translating to 148 elementary, 44 middle and 34 high schools were recognized.


Mishaps can’t stop annual dairy breakfast

Staff Reporter

PREBLE — The friends of Cortland County’s dairy industry gathered this morning for their yearly June Dairy Kickoff Breakfast at the home of John and Colleen Currie on Currie Road.
Dairy Promotion Committee member Dave Denniston said the annual event could not have had a better set-up, following some dairy related mishaps this morning — not only did a milk truck tip over in front of the Elm Tree Golf Course on Route 13 in Virgil, but some escaped cows had to be rounded up in the Preble area.
“So there was already a lot of excitement this morning,” Denniston told the roughly 20 people who gathered around the three tables in the Curries’ dining room for the breakfast feast.
Each year, the kickoff breakfast is prepared and served by the Dairy Promotion Committee at a different local dairy farm. Although the venue changes each year, the traditional glasses follow the breakfast around, reading “Milk the Grade A way.”
Organizers estimate that the tradition started as early as 1959, drawing in business leaders, politicians and farmers involved in the local dairy industry.
The 1,250-acre Currie Valley Dairy is a third-generation farm, John Currie said, and is a partnership between himself and his brothers Nate and Tom Currie. They own 1,350 registered Holsteins, of which 670 are of milking age.
Last year, the farm sold 16.2 million pounds or 1.9 million gallons of milk. Currie said the farm began sometime around 1914 or 1915.
“I came back to the farm in 1981, with the only goal of being successful and shipping the best product possible,” Currie said.
After Denniston told a series of dairy-themed jokes, the attendees dug into their fruit salad, frittata, muffins and cheesecake, washing it all down with milk … and/or coffee.
Preble farmer Pete Knapp was happy that the dairy breakfast was so close to his home.
“The last one I went to was four or five years ago and it was in Cincinnatus,” Knapp said as he ate and socialized. “Boy, it’s hard to get your morning chores done and make it to Cincinnatus by 7:30 — wrong side of the county.”
2006 Dairy Princess Gabrielle Gates is a veteran county traveler, having performed her duties since last year’s Dairy Parade, and said that she’s had an “excellent year.”
“It’s been an extremely fun and encouraging experience for the rest of my life,” Gates said, explaining that her public speaking skills have greatly improved throughout her term.
“My favorite question was when one little girl asked me if I lived in a castle because I had a crown.”
A highlight of the Dairy Breakfast is the awarding of the “Warm Hands” award, given to a supporter of the dairy industry. The award for this year was presented to Kaye Liddington, of Cortlandville, who Denniston introduced as “everyone’s friend.” She is active in the Holstein Club and 4-H and is a past member of the Cornell Cooperative Extension board of directors.



Truxton, new Navy destroyer share namesake

Staff Reporter

TRUXTON — The town now shares its name with a new Navy ship named for a Revolutionary War sailor who was one of the Navy’s first captains.
On Saturday, the Navy is christening its newest Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer “Truxtun,” the sixth Navy ship to be named after Commodore Thomas Truxtun since the mid-1800s, at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in Pascagoula, Miss.
The ship, which is designated hull number DDG 103, will be capable of fighting air, surface and subsurface battles simultaneously and contains a myriad of modern offensive and defensive weapons.
It will be commanded by Cdr. Timothy Weber, a Georgia native, and manned by a crew of 276 officers and enlisted personnel. Katie Dunnigan, public affairs specialist for the Navy, said it has not yet been determined where the ship will be based or when it will be ready.
The ship, which is being built by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, will be 510 feet long. It will be powered by four gas turbine engines and be capable of speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour.
Truxton Town Historian Don McCall said it is nice to hear the small town will have a tie to the new ship.
“It can be hard to get a TV repairman here,” he said. “Now we’re going to have a battleship. At least they’re not forgetting us.”
McCall said he recalls learning about a previous Navy ship named Truxtun that had sunk off the coast of Newfoundland during World War II, but isn’t familiar with the stories behind the other Truxtun ships.
He is, however, familiar with how the town of Truxton was named after Truxtun, he said.
He said like many other nearby military tract towns, including Cincinnatus, Homer and Virgil, Truxton was named after a war hero. He said he imagined Truxtun was changed to Truxton either as a result of an uneducated government official naming the town or in an effort to Americanize the name.
Thomas Truxtun, a Revolutionary war sailor selected as one of the Navy’s first captains in 1794, lived from 1755 until 1822. He commanded the USS Constellation in an undeclared naval war with revolutionary France; one of his biggest victories was the sinking of the French vessel L’Insurgente on Feb. 9, 1799.