PINCH, W.Va. -- Matt Cogar is a chip off the old block.
People who follow professional timber sports competitions immediately recognize the Cogar name. Matt's cousin, Arden Sr., dominated wood-chopping events in the 1970s. Arden Sr.'s son, Arden Jr., is the reigning U.S. professional champion. Matt's father, Paul, has been a competitive chopper for 35 years.
Now Matt, 25, is starting to flex his muscle on the chop-for-cash circuit.
On June 3, the young Webster County native enjoyed his best-ever finish in a professional event, placing second to cousin Arden Jr. at the U.S. Professional Championship in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
"This was my fourth year on the Stihl Timbersports Series, and I've improved each year I've competed," Matt said as he relaxed in the living room of his new home in Pinch. "One of my goals is to win it."
He believes he has the genes.
"My ancestors worked in the timber industry, swinging axes. Their skills and ability have been handed down to me and other family members," he said. "I literally cut my first tooth on an ax handle."
Matt got his first taste of competition in 1999 at the Webster County Woodchopping Festival.
"I was 12 years old, and I chopped in the boys' division. There were six of us in that division, and I finished sixth -- dead last," he said.
He didn't let the disappointment hold him back. He began training, building muscle and speed and learning the arcane secrets that separate great woodchoppers from the legions of also-rans.
Family members helped with his development. So did Melvin Lentz, the legendary "King of the Lumberjacks," who had moved from Oregon to Webster County.
"Jason Lentz [Melvin's son] and I were also fortunate enough to have the late Jim Alexander come over from Australia to help train us up," Matt said. "It helps to be big and strong, sure, but nine times out of 10, technique wins out over brute force."
Timber sports competitions originated in Australia, and are quite popular there. As a whole, competitors from Down Under are considered the world's finest.
Matt continued to compete in the boys' division at Webster Springs until 2003. After that, he started trying to compete with choppers in the competition's higher divisions.
"Through 2005, all my competitions were in the underhand chop [event]," he said. "In 2006, I started competing in standing block [events]."
In the winter of 2006-07, Matt took a break from his studies at Glenville State College and traveled to Australia for the equivalent of a graduate course in chopping.
"When I came back, I started competing professionally," he said.
As Matt's technical expertise grew, so did his physique. He reached what many consider to be a prototypical size for a timber sports competitor -- 6-foot, 4-inches, 245 pounds, with powerful forearms, wrists and hands.
Four years ago, Matt qualified to compete in the Stihl Timbersports Series, the Major Leagues of lumberjack competitions in the United States.
At the U.S. Championships, the series' biggest event, Matt has improved his performance every year that he has taken part.
"In 2009, I missed the second round by .04 seconds in the hot saw event," he recalled. "The next year I made the second round, but not the finals. The next year I made the finals and finished seventh. This year, I finished second, just five points behind [Arden Jr.]"
Matt had what might have been a winning performance in any other year. He finished second in the underhand, standing block and springboard chopping events; third in stock saw; fifth in single buck and sixth in hot saw.
Unfortunately for Matt, his cousin Arden Jr. won all of the chopping events and finished second in two of the three sawing events. Even with a last-place finish in hot saw, the competition's final event, Arden Jr. coasted to a five-point victory.
Matt's runner-up finish established him as a rising star on the pro circuit. His high finishes qualified him for the relay team that will compete in September's World Championships in Lillehammer, Norway.
"That's a trip I'm really looking forward to," he said.
He's also looking ahead and making goals for his future.
"I'd like to win the Stihl Timbersports Series, get on the medal stand at the World Championships, and win the 15-inch underhand chop in Sydney, Australia. Only one American -- Melvin Lentz -- has ever won that."
Matt wants to add the Cogar name to that short list. The chip wants to bring honor to the old block.Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.