seth buckman holding an axe
Dec 16, 2023
Flathead Beacon

FVCC Logger Sports Captain Recognized for Volunteer Service

By Micah Drew

The first time Seth Buckman attended a football game was last month during the 122nd Brawl of the Wild in Missoula. While the eyes of most Montanans were on the annual Griz-Cat rivalry matchup — an historic game that decided the conference title — a minority share of the 27,000-plus attendees in Washington-Grizzly Stadium were there for another reason.

Buckman was one of 13 recipients of the Montana Athletes in Service Award given by the Montana Campus Compact during the game to recognize student athletes at the state’s public colleges and universities who demonstrate exceptional commitment and engagement in community service.

“I hadn’t been to a football game before, so to be able to walk in the stadium and walk on the field, that was a great feeling,” Buckman said. “I’ve had this desire to serve my community my whole life. Someone just wanted to recognize me for it that day.”

Buckman, 35, is a second-year student at Flathead Valley Community College where he studies small business management and is the captain of the college’s national-caliber logger sports team.

It was Ann Beall, the adviser to the logger sports team, who nominated Buckman for the award.

“I noticed early on that Seth was always finding something to go and do. In his first year, even when he was just learning the ropes of the sport, if there was something that needed to be done, he was always willing,” Beall said. “If we needed new practice logs, he’d go and cut down the trees. He’d drag his teammates out for extra practices or to help put up new axe targets or clean up the arena. He’s always one to do things without being asked and really leads by example.”

Buckman, an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, first heard of logger sports more than a decade ago when he was in his second deployment. He was wondering what to do after getting out of the Army and considering colleges in Montana. When he saw that FVCC had a logger sports club, the idea rooted somewhere deep in his mind.

“I thought it was a pretty awesome sport, and thought that if I ever went to college, I’d want that,” he said. “But I totally forgot about it for a decade until recently.”

After the Army, Buckman initially moved back to his hometown of Billings before spending a stint on the national drag racing circuit as an engine mechanic. That lifestyle wasn’t ideal for his young family, so Buckman moved to the Flathead Valley with his family where he worked for Proof Research before deciding to use his military education benefits and attend FVCC on a full-time basis.

As it turned out, he was still fascinated by the world of competitive lumberjacking and joined the team his first semester.

“What really attracted me to the team was the camaraderie, something I had seen in the military and also being on a racing team. Working together to achieve a goal, to win, to be competitive — I really missed that,” he said. “I’m really fascinated with everything from the competitive side to the science side, like how the saws stay sharp. The difference between winning and losing can come down to the geometry of a tool’s edge or what kind of wood you’re working with.”

Buckman took to the sport quickly, becoming a top competitor in Caber Toss (heaving a 20-foot log for distance), double buck and pulp toss.

His favorite event might be the single buck, where it’s “just you and a 7-foot saw.”

“It’s kind of a personal version of the sport to reflect on. At the end of the day, it’s just me out there, so whatever the result is comes directly from me,” Buckman said. “But overall, logger sports reminds me of track and field, because we all have strengths and weaknesses in our individual events, but the points have to come together to bring a trophy back to the college.”

Team success is a core value for Buckman. He’s always willing to spend extra hours practicing with a teammate, or lead crews into the woods to harvest new trees to work with. When he realized it would be hard to practice birling — also called log rolling where two contestants spar on a floating log — during the winter months, he found a synthetic log for the team to train on and coordinated with the local fitness center to find pool time between swim practices. That mentality led to the team captaincy this year.

“I just always feel that we need to help each other out, we need to represent Flathead Valley, and we need to embody the spirit of the logger sports,” he said. “It’s a culture where no matter what, we’re helping other people out, not just team members, but other schools and other people. It’s a culture this sport has had for decades, and it’s a culture worth keeping alive.”

“This sport is different than other college sports,” Beall said. “It’s a sport where you’ll loan your best pieces of equipment to someone from another school, and you’ll sit down and cheer them on while they use it. It really attracts the kind of people I call ‘keepers:’ people who are generous, will help in any way they can, and you’ll make friends with for the rest of your lives.”

Buckman is one of the ‘keepers,’ Beall said, for his work both within FVCC and the greater Flathead Valley. There’s very little time in the day he does not devote to improving the local community.

As a volunteer panel member for Crisis Intervention Training, Buckman speaks with members of the sheriff’s department about veterans suffering from war trauma and PTSD. He is also a volunteer with Underwater Soldiers, a non-profit that offers scuba diving therapy for veterans and first responders with physical and mental trauma and organizes clean-up dives in lakes around northwest Montana.

His service-oriented mindset is “second nature,” Buckman said.

“It’s part of my nature, but it’s also a lesson I learned in the army about being selfless. Always help others before yourself — it’s a lesson that changed my life,” he said. “My kids are also growing up and seeing me do these things, and I reflect on that a lot. I want them to see what good leadership looks like, and how serving others is the way to doing great things with your life.”