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Algonquin Loggersports carry on their touchdown tradition with the Ottawa Redblacks

By Celina Ip

Once it was announced that the Ottawa Redblacks scored a touchdown, the Algonquin Loggersports team got to work with Taylor Popkie at the helm as he revved up his chainsaw and began cutting off a celebratory 'wooden cookie' as a cloud of sawdust sprayed around him and thousands of Redblacks fans cheered him on.

Once it was announced that the Ottawa Redblacks scored a touchdown, the Algonquin Loggersports team got to work with Taylor Popkie at the helm as he revved up his chainsaw and began cutting off a celebratory 'wooden cookie' as a cloud of sawdust sprayed around him and thousands of Redblacks fans cheered him on.

OTTAWA – The TD Place crowd erupted in cheers as the Redblacks scored a touchdown and then the sounds of chainsaws filled the air.

 

The sounds were being emitted from the west endzone where a group of four to five men and women were dressed in lumberjack gear, sporting orange safety hats, holding orange chainsaws and standing around a large poplar log.

As soon as the Redblacks touchdown was officially announced, a member of the group snapped on his safety goggles, revved up his chainsaw and got to work.

As the large TV screen zoomed in on his work, the crowds cheers excitedly while saw dust clouded the air around him.

A couple minutes later, the sounds of the chainsaw were cut short and the dust diminished as the lumberjack proudly picked up a perfectly-cut wooden cookie that had been branded with the Redblacks logo, and he held it up high for all to see.

That young lumberjack and his teammates are members of Algonquin College’s Loggersports Team based here in Pembroke.

The Algonquin Loggersports Team has been the sole varsity sport at the Algonquin College Pembroke Campus for the past 25-plus years. Composed of around 15 to 20 men and women, mainly forestry students, the team engages and competes in all kinds of logging sports that range from axe-throwing to log rolling to pole climbing and a whole lot of sawing.

“Loggersports is associated with forestry programs at colleges and universities – so McGill University has a team, Fleming College has a team and a couple others. We've had a forestry-technician program at the Pembroke campus since the college opened in 1968, so forestry is part of our legacy and that was the genesis of the Algonquin Loggersports Team,” said Jamie Bramburger, manager of student and community affairs at Algonquin College in Pembroke.

For the past four years, since the inaugural year when the Ottawa Redblacks rejoined the Canadian Football League (CFL), the Algonquin Loggersports Team have been performing the wooden cookie ‘touchdown tradition’ among other traditions at every Redblacks home game.

“The students are here to have fun and it's a great experience that allows them to show off their skills, watch a free football game and get exposure on TV,” said Chris Ryan, Algonquin Loggersports coach for the past 22 years. “It's great exposure for them and for the college as well – plus, it puts Pembroke more on the map.”

At every game, the Redblacks gift one of the wooden cookies – the ultimate symbol of a Redblacks achievement – to a special group or individual who performed an extraordinary act of kindness, courage, philanthropy or discovery.

At the Sept. 29 home game, the wooden cookie was presented to members of Ottawa Fire who bravely rescues someone from the frozen Rideau River last winter.

“The wood cookie is a symbol of excellence. It's only created when the Redblacks score a touchdown, so can't buy them and there's no way an average fan can get one. They represent achievement and they represent success. What we do with the wood cookie is we present them to community heroes – people who have made a difference. Those heroes could be philanthropic people who have donated their money or their time to make a huge difference for our city or it could be a doctor who has saved lives or made a medical discovery,” said Randy Burgess, vice-President of Communications for Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (Owners of Ottawa Redblacks). “Tonight, the wooden cookies is being presented to a group of individuals from Ottawa Fire that rescued somebody from the raging and almost frozen Rideau River last winter. “

Along with the wooden cookie tradition, the Algonquin Loggersports and Redblacks have pre-game and half-time rituals. For the pre-game ritual, one or two well-known local individuals are invited onto the field to loudly rev up the chainsaws with the Loggersports team. At half-time, two spectators from the North Side crowd are pitted against two spectators from the South Side crowd, as they engage in a cross-cut challenge.

“For the pre-game bit, the Redblacks pick former players or NHL players or other celebrities and they are given the chainsaws which we start up for them and they just rev them on the field,” said Ryan. “At half time, we do a cross-cut competition between two North fans and two South fans at the stadium. It’s all technique and doesn’t depend on strength, anyone can do it really.”

The strong partnership between the Redblacks and Algonquin Loggersports Team is one that has become widely celebrated by Redblacks fans and Canadians in general.

Not only does the partnership provide the Redblacks with a unique celebratory moment for every touchdown, but it honours the exceptional Canadians who are presented with the wooden cookies, it promotes Algonquin College and it recognizes the unique talents of Loggersports athletes.

Burgess expressed that Ottawa’s logging heritage is an essential part of the Redblacks story and the addition of the Algonquin Loggersports team is an element that ties that lumberjack past with the present, to beautifully honour Ottawa’s history.

“Our story is founded on the lumber industry and it's quite incredible really. If not for the lumber industry, Ottawa wouldn't be here. The log riders rode logs down the Ottawa River from the Upper Ottawa Valley and they stopped in Ottawa. They fought, they drank, they had a good time and that kind of rough-and-tumble history is how Ottawa was founded. When the Redblacks came to be, we wanted to capitalize on that authentic founding of Ottawa as part of our overall brand,” said Burgess. “So as soon as we found out about the Algonquin Loggersports group, we made contact, they came down and that's really how the partnership began.”

cip@postmedia.com