For Noel Boyer and Danny Beasley, trees are both a career and a sport.
Most weeks of the year, the two Greene County residents can be found somewhere high in the trees above Springfield. Boyer, a tree climber for Springfield-based T-N-T Tree Service Inc., and Beasley, a clearance tree trimmer for City Utilities of Springfield, spend much of their days pruning branches, inspecting damaged limbs and performing a variety of other tasks associated with the tree care profession.
Their jobs keep them busy but, for one weekend each June, their work becomes a game. Boyer, Beasley and others in the tree care industry from Missouri and seven other states gather in St. Louis to match skills in the International Society of Arboriculture's (ISA) Midwestern Chapter Regional Tree Climbing Championship. The winner advances to international competition.
The name "Tree Climbing Championship" is a misnomer of sorts because the six-event competition encompasses more than just climbing. It's a modern equivalent of old-time lumberjack contests, except without the log-rolling or tree-sawing events. For Boyer, Beasley and other participants, the contest is a chance to use their work skills competitively. From a broader perspective, the ISA competition is an opportunity to show the public that there is much more to tree pruning than scaling a trunk and yanking a chainsaw cord.
"You have to know a broad range of things," said Beasley, a Republic resident who has finished as high as second in the regional competition. "You have to know the characteristics of different hardwoods or softwoods-how sturdy they are, where they break, how they're going to break. You also have to know roping, rigging and other mechanical things."
Speed factors into the scoring, but the contest isn't merely a series of races. In the five preliminary events and the final Masters' Challenge, climbers earn, or lose, points for safety. This may sound like a lot of skills to master, but they're essential skills for an arborist.
Arborists are tree care experts who devote their attention to individual trees rather than tracts of timber. To an arborist, rope work, safety practices and knowledge of various tree species must become second nature because broken limbs, paralysis or death are never more than one bad decision away.
"Everything we do in the competition is based on what we do every day," said Boyer, a Springfield resident who won the 1998 regional contest and finished 22nd in the world championship in Birmingham, England. "I don't