In the track and field meets axes and chainsaws world of college timbersports, John Parcell can now be called the best in the West.
The 20-year-old forestry major from Condon represented the University of Montana’s Woodsman Team during the Western Collegiate Stihl Timbersports Qualifier on Friday, a competition that included four different events that tested athletes ability to chop, cut and chainsaw.
Although Parcell is a junior, this is the second time he’s been the school’s participant in the challenge. He placed fifth last year. Team co-captain Kate Page said while it’s slightly unusual for the same person to compete twice, Parcell was the obvious choice this year.
“If they are your best athlete they are your best athlete, and he is,” she said Thursday. “He’s one of the best choppers and he has a really good chance of winning.”
Her confidence was well placed. Parcell won Friday’s competition, which was broadcast from Garrett Grothen Memorial Arena by national sports television network ESPN. With the win at the western region qualifier, Parcell moves on to compete at the nationals in Chicago on July 16, where a trip to the November world championship in Stuttgart, Germany, will be on the line.
“It’s a little daunting but also very exciting,” Parcell said.
The three days of collegiate competition that spanned Wednesday through Friday made up the 77th American Western Forestry Clubs Conclave, which brought schools from across the western United States to Fort Missoula.
The competition was capped by the 20th annual Forestry Day on Saturday, which included competition and demonstrations by professional competitors.
The UM Woodsman Team competes in six to eight shows every year, Parcell said, with last week’s being the final event of the season. In addition to axes, crosscut saws and chainsaws, the members of the team use special shoes during most of their events to help them grip the woodchip turf. Parcell said the most common type of shoes are modified soccer cleats.
“You cut off all of the studs on the bottom first – a band saw works really well for that if you have one. Then you punch holes in the bottom and put in the spikes and backing boards to replace them,” he said.
For the first time this summer, Parcell intends to compete in professional competitions as well.
“You can literally tour around the country competing. It’s kind of like rodeo,” he said.
For the past few years, Parcell has put his timbersport prowess to other uses during the summer, including two years of fighting fires. Last year, he performed in the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.
Scott Keuhn said he believes Parcell is the first student from UM to move on to the national competition. Kuehn, a former hot saw world-record holder and member of the Society of American Foresters, was also one of the founding members of the UM Woodsman Team.
“One of the interesting things about the Stihl series is it’s multi-discipline, you have to cross all disciplines and that’s what Johnny has going for him,” Keuhn said. “You can’t just be a good chopper and just cross your fingers and hope.”
Keuhn said he and former UM team member-turned-pro Eric Hoberg will help Parcell get ready to head to Chicago this summer. While that includes working on technique, Keuhn said the most important part, especially for younger college athletes, is being mentally prepared.
“Here, ESPN filmed it but it was pretty low key. Back there, when you get to that level, it’s huge. Cameras everywhere and they are in your face. It’s a little bit tougher learning how to talk to the media and not get distracted,” he said.