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Log rolling a splash with scouts

Courtesy photo From left, Jordan Bennets, Cole Bennets and Blake Pfister practice logrolling in Van Cleve Park. Members of Scouts BSA Troop 411 and other local students have had an opportunity to get involved with log rolling in 2019 and 2020.

GLADSTONE — Members of Scouts BSA Troop 411 and other local students have had an opportunity to get involved with log rolling recently. Scoutmaster Craig Woerpel said log rolling practices he organized through the troop have been going well since they started last year.

Though he is not a logroller himself, Woerpel has ties to a prominent figure in log rolling.

“Dan McDonough, who I graduated with in 1979, is a nine-time world champion log roller,” he said.

In recent years, McDonough has brought the U.S. Log Rolling Open to Gladstone as part of the city’s Independence Day celebrations. Woerpel has worked at logrolling events and with McDonough in the past.

At the 2019 U.S. Log Rolling Open, Woerpel spoke with Pat Ogle, a professional log roller who has participated in competitions and shows across the country.

“I ended up at that competition talking to Pat — he wanted to leave a log in the lagoon, could I get any kids to come? I said I could certainly ask,” he said.

Woerpel went to his Scout troop to ask for their thoughts. At the time, some scouts expressed interest in participating; they started log rolling in Van Cleve Park late last summer. Word about the activity soon spread, and some non-scouts got involved, as well.

Student log rolling resumed in the spring of 2020. So far, about 18 different students aged 10-16 have tried log rolling at least once this year.

“Out of that, we’ve got a core of about five guys who’ve become very interested in it,” Woerpel said.

Blake Pfister, a Bark River student going into ninth grade, said he and his peers have enjoyed log rolling.

“We always walk away with a smile on our face, unless we fall wrong,” he said.

The logs used by students are “practice logs,” which are covered with carpet. Woerpel noted Ogle brought four western red cedar practice logs for students to use this year; two of these logs are over 30 years old.

Originally, the goal for participating students was to compete in the amateur division of the U.S. Log Rolling Open. The event had been set to return to Gladstone for Independence Day in 2020.

“COVID-19 obviously canceled the event, so we’re working for next year,” Woerpel said.

Ogle and another professional log roller, Bruce Belanger, have attended practices to give students advice on foot positioning, balance and other essential log rolling skills. Belanger is the founder of the Great Lakes Timber Show, which travels to a wide variety of events and has been featured on ESPN, CBS, NBC and other TV channels.

According to Ogle, students who have attended log rolling practices on a regular basis have grown significantly between 2019 and 2020.

“This year, right off the bat I’ve seen really good improvement,” he said.

Pfister agreed with Ogle’s assessment.

“I’ve seen a lot of improvement since last year when we started,” he said.

Students who get involved with log rolling early in their lives can continue participating well into adulthood, Woerpel said.

“They have an opportunity to do this for a very long time if they’re interested,” he said.

In addition to the athletic benefits they provide to participating students, Woerpel said he hopes the log rolling practices will help promote the area’s historical connections to log rolling. Gladstone held world championships for log rolling in the 1930s and ’40s, and log rolling-related events continued there through the late ’90s.

“The biggest benefit to the community is that we continue the history that has been long ingrained, especially in Gladstone and Escanaba, that has just kind of waned over the years,” Woerpel said.

Ogle thanked Woerpel for making the practices possible.

“He’s really the one who’s been putting in the time,” he said.

Log rolling practices are being held in Van Cleve Park at 2 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays throughout the summer. Participating students must know how to swim.

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