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A chip off the ol' block

6/17/2009

STIHL TIMBERSPORTS professional Mike Slingerland gave a demonstration of the underhand chop to the crowd before the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Series began in Cumberland, Md., in late April.

"The perfect chop should be done in 20 to 22 swings of an axe," Slingerland said to the college competitors and fans circling the arena.

Roughly two hours later, his son, Matt Slingerland, split the 12-inch diameter piece of white pine in 22 hits — 11 on each side. Suddenly, "perfect" left room for improvement.

"There is always something to improve on," he said. "If there wasn't, then we'd all quit because we would have nothing to strive for. We have learned through the years that hard work brings good results."

It was a position Matt Slingerland was familiar with. His father is also his coach.

"He's hard on me all the time," Matt Slingerland said. "If I did well in my mind, then I didn't do well in his mind. He always corrects me and tells me what to do to make myself better."

The steep learning curve peaks at Matt's experience and it's not always easy.

"He is a teenager," Slingerland said, "and he talks back. But in the end he tries to do everything I tell him to do."

This dynamic is nothing new to Mike Slingerland. He attributes his success to his father, who was a world champion in the 1970s and 1980s. Mike's family — his wife, daughter, and two teenage sons — are all in some way involved in lumberjack sports.

While most families talk about their day at the dinner table, the Slingerland family talks about lumberjacking. It's a part of their lives.

Out of Mike's two sons, Matt and Eric, only Matt chops competitively as a member of the Montgomery Community College's lumberjack team in North Carolina. He won the 2009 Mid-Atlantic STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Series event, which is allowing him to compete in the collegiate championship for the second straight year this weekend in Columbus, Ga.

It wasn't as if the life of a STIHL TIMBERSPORT athlete was forced on Matt, it was just the way things were.
"I grew up around the competitions and started competing when I was nine years old," Matt said.

Mike Slingerland said he started his son with the basics. He laid the foundation for Matt and helped him build.

"You can't build a house on sand," Slingerland said. "Matt has known what to do in a competition because he's trained."

Over the past few years, the coach-student mentality of the Slingerlands has evolved into a partnership. As father trains, son trains. Now the elder Slingerland gives — and receives — advice. Like father, like son.

On June 20, a day before Father's Day, it will be Matt's turn to sit in the stands and watch his father try to chop and saw his way into the finals of the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Professional Series presented by Carhartt. If Slingerland performs well enough to be in the eight (out of 16) who move on to Columbus Ga., both father and son will compete together on Father's Day, in separate competitions.

Mike Slingerland, who has achieved 22 world titles in various events and was a STIHL TIMBERSPORTS finalist in 1995, figures that it won't be long before his son goes from training partner to competitor.

"Without a doubt, Matt's going to be a professional," Slingerland said. "He's going to be one of the good ones."