AISU high school director Wallace cherishes memories of her time as a ‘woodsman’
Jun 04, 2019 03:26PM
● By Carl Fauver
Abbey Wallace was enticed to join her Colby College Woodsmen team in Waterville, Maine, when she saw the recruiting slogan, “It’s like lacrosse…but with axes.” (Photo courtesy Abbey Wallace)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
This has been a challenging spring for administrators, faculty, students and parents associated with the soon-to-close American International School of Utah (AISU), housed in what was once the 49th Street Galleria amusement venue, west of I-15, near 4900 South.
The school’s board of directors voted unanimously last month to close the Murray school after five years of operation. The final day for students is June 7. The move displaces about 1,300 students and 170 full- and part-time employees.
This story has nothing more to do with that closure – but everything to do with one of those 170 employees – who, less than a decade ago, participated in one of the most interesting and unusual college athletic club teams you have never heard of.
Soon-to-depart AISU High School Director (“principal”) Abbey Wallace competed on her Colby College Woodsmen team, in Waterville, Maine from 2009 to 2012.
“There was a boys’ team and a girls’ team, but we were all called woodsmen,” Wallace said. “I discovered the team within a week of arriving on campus, during club recruitment day. First, we heard chain saws revving. Then I saw their recruitment poster, with the slogan, ‘It’s like lacrosse…but with axes.’ I was hooked pretty quick.”
Backing up a couple of years, Wallace and her three siblings were raised in a Washington, D.C. suburb and attended a private school, where her mother served on the board of directors. At a young age, Abbey developed a yearning for international travel – a desire she still holds today.
“While I was in high school, our family hosted two exchange students, boys, from South Africa,” Wallace said. “Then later in the year, I traveled to South Africa and also stayed with a family there for about a month. It was my first international trip without a parent. I knew travel was something I would want to do for the rest of my life.”
When not seeing the world (Wallace also visited Mexico and Australia, with family, at a young age), she played soccer and lacrosse for her high school team. Soccer became a near year-round sport for her – and something she considered continuing in college.
“I started at Colby College in the fall of 2008, and by then I had pretty well decided I did not want to devote the time necessary to try out and play for their women’s soccer team,” Wallace added. “I chose to attend Colby College (615 miles northeast of her home), because 70 percent of their students study abroad at some point in their college career. International travel was still a high priority.”
Having never heard of lumberjacking as a competitive sport – because really, other than Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, who has – Abbey and her new freshman friends set out for their on-campus club day.
“After talking with Woodsmen Club members, about a week later I attended a demonstration,” Wallace said. “In an open, wooded area – across the street from our campus – there was a small wooden cabin the club had built… and inside were all of the trophies and plaques they had won over the years. I remember, the entire cabin ceiling was covered with plaques.”
The group Wallace was quickly growing enamored with describes itself on its home webpage (web.colby.edu/woodsmen):
“The Colby Woodsmen’s Team is a student athletic club. We practice old-time logging skills such as standing-block chop, log rolling, sawing, pole climbing; and newer events such as axe throw and chainsaw. We travel to about six intercollegiate meets each year. Our team is co-ed and open to any Colby students who are interested. No experience is necessary! All you need is a willingness to learn and a good sense of humor.”
Woodsmen meets are held in both the United States and Canada.
“It’s very much a student-run team,” Wallace said. “We did have a coach; but mostly we helped each other practice and train. The competition consists of six singles events (one person), three doubles events and three or four team events. I tried them all, and found wood chopping to be my specialty. It was a lot of fun.”
Of the six annual woodsmen meets, Wallace said, “by far,” one was the most prestigious.
“The spring meet came at the end of the season and the winner of that meet got to keep the traveling trophy at their school for the next year,” she said.
However, as Wallace arrived at the spring meet in her junior year at Colby, the women’s woodsmen team had still never earned that prestigious lumberjacking trophy. In 2011, the two-day meet was held in east-central New York state, in the small town of Cobleskill.
“That was the highlight of my woodsman career,” Wallace said. “And we literally had no idea we had won the women’s championship until it was over and they were announcing what place each school had earned.”
Wallace said her sport was not high-tech. There was no large scoreboard showing how each team was standing in the meet. When they finally heard their Colby College name announced as the 2011 Women’s Spring Meet champions, it was a special moment.
“It was just so crazy; we were yelling and screaming,” she said. “Our team motto was ‘one team, one love.’ It was just so exciting to share that moment with a group of friends that I probably never would have met, if not for this unusual sport.”
The following year, Wallace was the senior captain of her Woodsmen team, which barely came up short in defending their spring meet title. Soon after that, she graduated from Colby College in international studies and anthropology.
That was spring of 2012. Just four years later, Wallace started her career at AISU in Murray. In between she taught learning and testing strategies at 14 schools in six countries (including Jamaica, Bermuda and Australia); earned a master’s degree in international education management; and even spent a year in Louisiana, working (off camera) on the movie “Pitch Perfect 2.”
With AISU preparing to close its doors, Wallace will be among those employees seeking work elsewhere. She’s already demonstrated, her next career step could be taken here in the United States or just about anywhere else in the world.
Wallace’s next job is not likely to involve chopping logs with an axe or cutting them with a 6-foot hand saw. But she spent four unforgettable years demonstrating she could do that as well.