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Lumberjack gladiators

Glen Young - August 17th, 2009
Lumberjack Gladiators
Jack Pine Shows are on a roll at the Straits
By Glen Young 8/17/09

What does a world-class lumberjack do when he is ready to hang up his traveling shoes? For nine-time logrolling champ Dan McDonough, if he cannot go out on the road, he brings the road to him.
McDonough and partner Cynthia Musickant have brought the longtime tradition of the traveling lumberjack show to a permanent site along the Straits of Mackinac between Mackinaw City and Cheboygan. The Jack Pine Lumberjack Shows opened last July and has gained speed this summer, playing to bigger and noisier crowds each night.
An Escanaba native, McDonough, 48, has been featured in Sports Illustrated and on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
“I started logrolling at nine years old, and competing at 11,” he says of his lengthy career, adding that he decided a couple years ago it was time to settle down and give up the travel.
“I always wanted to do my own permanent show site,” McDonough says of the new venture. He and Musickant chose the Mackinaw City site because the area has a history of lumbering.
As for his wife, how does an interior designer from Milwaukee come to run a lumberjack show? “She falls in love with a lumberjack,” she says with a laugh.
She believes the show offers a wholesome alternative for those visiting the area. “There are a lot of things to do in Mackinaw City during the day,” Musickant says, “but not many to do at night. The key is that it appeals to absolutely everyone, every single age group.”

ON WITH THE SHOW
The show features dueling “iron jacks” -- lumberjacks who excel at multiple events, including logrolling, ax throwing, and pole climbing among others. The crowd, seated on bleachers inside an amphitheatre McDonough built on the site, cheers for either the Mill Creek Lumber Camp lumberjack or the Mackinaw City Lumber Camp lumberjack, and is encouraged to boo the opposing man.
This year’s lumberjacks are Rob Spry and Tim Vanlare, both 20-year-old New York natives who competed at the collegiate lumberjack level for Finger Lakes Community College. Finger Lakes CC has earned 17 national championships, with both Spry and Vanlare a part of the 2008 championship team.
McDonough knew where to find competent young lumberjacks. “If you find a school that offers a degree in forestry, chances are they’ll have a competitive lumberjacking team.”
With the bearded McDonough serving as emcee, the crowd is divided into competing camps and encouraged to shout a rousing “timber” as the iron jacks enter the arena. Over the course of the next hour, the jacks race from one event to the next. Events include the ax throw, the log roll, the springboard, and more. With each completed event, the lumberjacks earn points and the crowd grows more enthused or more hostile.
Vanlare and Spry work the part, yelling out challenges to each other and revving their chainsaws with equal parts menace and daring.
Both men enjoy the competition. “There isn’t a bad thing about it. It’s never goes the same,” Spry says of the nightly variations.
First-time spectator Tiffany Allen of Cheboygan came out on a recent night to watch because, “It’s not something you see every day.” Her friend Zach Andrews of Lansing was looking forward to the springboard, where the lumberjacks chop a tree while standing on a narrow elevated platform. “It brings a whole balance thing into play,” he says.

CHEERS & BOOS
As the show heats up, the crowd grows more enthused. When the logrolling begins, the cheers become louder as both men take turns hitting the water. McDonough looks on happily, encouraging more cheering and more booing from the respective sides of the audience.
Sponsored in part by Stihl chainsaws, the Jack Pine Lumberjack Show has played to crowds as large as 200, and McDonough says the crowds are growing each night.
Kenneth Brown of Tucson, Arizona says he and wife Carol have watched rodeos all over the country, and while they had never been to a lumberjack show before, “This ranks right up there.”

The Jack Pine Lumberjack Shows run every night through Labor Day at 7:30 p.m. Cost is $11 for adults, $8 for kids 5-14
and senior citizens, with kids three and under free. For more information about The Jack Pine Lumberjack Show visit their website at www.jackpinelumberjackshow.com, or call 231-436-5225.
 
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