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Will Kraemer: Skills USA National Champion and Collegiate Logging Champion

According to Will Kraemer, he spent extra time in preschool because his teachers told his parents, “All he wants to do is dig.” Now a senior Bio Resource and Agricultural Engineering major at Cal Poly, with a love for hands-on experience, he is also the reigning Stihl Timber Sports Collegiate Series Western Regional Champion and the 4th place finisher at the National Championships.

Will was born and raised in San Luis Obispo. His parents, Greg and Louise, met at Cal Poly. Greg, a longtime employee of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, teaches special education at Bishop Peak, and Louise is a kindergarten classroom aide at Pacheco School. Will’s brother, Luke, also a Cal Poly graduate in mechanical engineering, works for SLO Ambulance and Los Osos Fire. His sister, Elena, is a freshman kinesiology major at Cal Poly and a former star of the San Luis Obispo High School soccer team.

All of the Kraemer children attended the dual immersion program at Pacheco School, and although Will wasn’t crazy about learning Spanish, he stuck with it and earned enough Spanish credit through middle school at Laguna to need only one Spanish class at SLOHS to meet his foreign language requirements. That opened up his schedule to take an abundance of elective classes in Industrial Technology and Agriculture, the kind of learn-by-doing classes that appealed to him.

“Looking back on it, I wish I had enjoyed Spanish more because it would be helpful in the Ag field to be bilingual,” Will said, “but all the shop classes really helped me.”

Growing up Will enjoyed BMX and mountain biking, building half-pipes in the backyard with Luke, developing manual skills they learned from Greg. “My parents tell the story of when we were adding a second story to our house, and Luke and I would be on the roof with him hammering nails. A neighbor down the street who was a fireman wasn’t too crazy about it, but I loved it and learned a lot.”

Will played soccer, football, baseball and volleyball, the latter through his junior year in high school, but his love was always shop classes.

“They spurred my success and my college career. All I want to do is build.” Will praised his high school teachers in both IT and Ag. “They were my mentors. I gained so much knowledge and learned the finer details of what I had learned from my dad and through my own interest. It gave me a great advantage at Poly and helped me immensely in my department.”

As a member of Skills USA teams in high school, Will won regional and state championships in welding and finished 3rd in nationals as part of a welding fabrication team as a junior. In his senior year his team built a BBQ smoker and won the national championship in Kansas City. “The IT and Ag faculty—Tim Fay, Jeff Lehmkuhl, Jed Bruington, Jodi Evans, Anna Bates—are the best teachers and really good people.”

In addition to getting his degree in his major, Will plans to earn a teaching credential in Agriculture and teach high school Ag Mechanics after getting experience in the industry. “I want to provide the same kind of hands-on learning experience to students that benefited me so much.”

When Will was a sophomore in high school he attended a logging competition at Cal Poly with his uncle, who works for Swanton Ranch, owned by Cal Poly, in Santa Cruz, where one of the activities is to harvest timber. “There were pros competing with powerful chain saws. It was awesome. When I came to Poly I signed up for the logging team during WOW. On my first weekend at Poly we went to Swanton Ranch to cut trees to bring back for practice.

“I got super involved and started training hard right away. I was excited by the engines, the fast cutting chain saws, the danger, being out in the woods.” The team cuts designated Monterey pines that are then replanted with new trees.

Every fall Cal Poly hosts the Cal Conclave Logging Competition that includes teams from schools like Northern Arizona University, Humboldt State and UC Berkeley. Each school can bring three teams composed of eight members that compete in a variety of skills, and each team must have at least two members of the opposite gender.

As a freshman Will competed in the underhand chop, power saw and cross cut, which can be either an individual (single buck) or two person (double buck) competition. Will’s skills continued to improve, and at the Association of Western Forestry Clubs competition in Flagstaff, AZ his sophomore year, the largest competition west of the Mississippi with over 150 competitors, Will finished first and earned the title Bull of the Woods. The top female, also from Cal Poly, earned Belle of the Woods honors.

During Will’s junior year, when he was president of the team, Cal Poly hosted the AWFC competition in the spring of 2018. On the second day of the three-day collegiate competition, the Stihl Timber Sports Western Collegiate Qualifier was also held. Will finished first in two events and second in two others, competing against the best loggers from each school represented, and qualified for the National Collegiate Championships in Milwaukee last July. The professional championships were held at the same time.

“Timber sports are unlike any other sport I’ve played. At our collegiate competitions everyone is very friendly, there’s no animosity between teams. It’s a learning and fun experience for everyone.” Will finished 4th at Nationals in a field of eight regional qualifiers, taking first in the stock saw event. “I learned a lot, particularly about equipment choice. I hope to compete for Cal Poly in the qualifier and return to Nationals. The key is to be consistently good at all events.”

Will worked for Cal Poly alumnus and professional logger, Walt Page, over the summer near Shaver Lake. “I worked all week behind two fallers and once they’d fall the trees I’d limb them down and buck them, cut them all to size. On the weekends I’d train to get ready for competitions. Timber sports rewards a good combination of technique, strength, and stamina so I work hard on all of them.

Good nutrition is important, too. I hope to compete professionally someday, as much for the love of it as anything else. There’s only one top professional, Matt Koger, who makes a living at it. The rest all have full-time jobs.”

“I’ve always been a very competitive person. I’ve always wanted to win. I work harder when I don’t win. When you couple that with my interest in the equipment—sharp, dangerous stuff, hands-on—it really motivates me. There’s an individual component to it, but it’s also a team sport so I have to do my best to prepare my team, which benefits the whole school. I’ve learned a lot about leadership skills, about responsibility when people look up to you.”

At the end of our interview, Will smiled and said, “Remember when your parents told you never to run with scissors? I get to run through the woods with axes and chainsaws.” So far, Will has experienced a lot of success for a kid who only wanted to dig in preschool. I expect the future will be no different.



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