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Peoria-based axe throwing teams enjoy the thrills, camaraderie of competing in world championships

Photo courtesy Kelin Randall
Peoria-based competitive axe throwers, from left, Brian Southard, Matt Fox, Sean Tumilty and Kelin Randall, competed in the 2022 World Axe Throwing Championships earlier this month in Wisconsin.

A pair of two-man teams from the Peoria area recently competed in this year's world championships for their chosen sport.

Partners Sean Tumilty and Kelin Randall were joined by the duo of Brian Southard and Matt Fox in traveling to Appleton, Wis., earlier this month for the 2022 World Axe Throwing Championships. It's an activity Tumilty and Randall say they picked up about two years ago.

“I joined the league when my brother-in-law joined the league,” said Tumilty.

“Our wives are sisters, hence the name,” interjected Randall. “Our team's name, we came up with ‘The Drunken Uncles.’”

Randall said his interest in axe throwing began with a need for something to do.

“Well, my wife said, ‘Why don't you get out of the house and go make some friends?’ because I think that by the fall of 2020, we were all stuck at home so long,” he said. “She was sick of me and said, ‘Get out of the house!’”

Although Fox wasn't able to make a recent group interview at the Gone Axe Throwing venue in the Warehouse District, Southard — his teammate on “The Professionals”— said he's also been involved in the sport for about two years.

“I came in as a random booking just to try it out, kind of got told by the judge that might want to try looking at league (play),” said Southard. “I kind of brushed it off first, came in for another booking about two or three weeks later (and) got told the same thing. I signed up for league and kind of caught the bug.”

But Southard said his knack for axe throwing really dates back to his childhood.

“I kind of grew up as a kid in the country throwing knives in the back yard, messing around. Now we have it as a sport and I love it,” he said. “The community (and) the camaraderie, it's a great thing. I recommend anyone who's even on the edge of thinking about doing this to come out here and give it a try.”

So how does competitive axe throwing work? Tumilty starts out with the basics.

“Two people throwing at the same target at the same time. It's an inch-and-a-half bullseye, and we're going for the same bullseye,” he said.

Simple enough, right? Well, Randall and Southard say there's a bit more to it.

“If one axe hits the board before the other person releases, it's a fault. You have about a half a second to release your axe, so the timing is everything,” said Randall.

“Not only that, in duals your timing takes a big factor when you're throwing because essentially you want both axes to be in sequence so if they are to hit they will drive into the board,” explained Southard. “If your timing is off (and) one sticks before the other, you have a chance of a drop — where the axe is going to hit the back of the head of the other axe that's already in the target and fall. Then you have zero points for that axe that drops.”

The two teams participate in the World Axe Throwing League, or WATL. In league play, the partners get 10 throws per match and can score as high as 64 points. So how often do these guys play?

“League is only once a week, but we try and practice at least one or two times more than that,” said Tumilty. “But leading up to the tournament, I was throwing every day.”

“We both have targets out of our garages actually,” added Randall.

But Southard admitted he was concerned about being a little rusty ahead of the championships.

“To be honest, before worlds qualifying, my partner and I hadn't touched an axe in over three months,” he said. “So we were a little leery about even doing it because we both had new job roles and everything kind of got chaotic. We had to miss out on league, (but) we came in and threw and actually did quite well.”

In fact, both local teams did well enough in their qualifying rounds to earn a place in the World Championships, held over the first weekend in December. Southard said it was an unforgettable experience.

“It was a blast. I will say the nerves took over the first round; counting down the first couple throws, I could see my axe kind of shaking in my hand,” he said. “So, a little overwhelming at first, but once you got the bugs out, it was a lot of fun.

“We got to meet people from all over the world, see all kinds of different techniques and the way people throw. And like I said this community as a whole and the camaraderie between everyone — win or lose, everybody was in good spirits. It was a lot of fun.”

Randall said being around the other competitors at the event was the biggest thrill.

“I mean, you just walk in and you see the best players in the world that you’ve seen on ESPN throw,” he said. “I watch ... live-stream tournaments and stuff and seen these guys throw for a couple years now, and then just go walk up and just go talk to them like it's nothing, it's incredible.

"They’re just so friendly. Everyone's there to help each other out with throws and just whatever else you need. There's a lot of even charities to help access if they need some financial help to get into leagues and go to tournaments — there's a lot of that, too. It's just such a great community, like you walk in see all these bearded guys that just look all burly and then they just want to give you a hug. It's great; the community is just incredible.”

And just how well did the two Peoria-based teams fare at the World Championships? Well, the Drunken Uncles lost twice and The Professionals had one win in three tries.

“Our first match, the team that beat us ended up in the A-bracket finals so they're really good,” said Randall. “Then the second match we had, we actually played that same team in Minneapolis in July at the U.S. Open tournament, the second biggest tournament in WATL. We actually beat them then.”

“Like I said, the nerves got to us in the first game, but after that we kind of shut them out. The other two matches that we had, they were nail-biters — I mean, one point split us so it was very close,” said Southard. “Inevitably, one bad throw can cost you the game because that's the level everyone's on.”

Like Southard, Tumilty encourages making a visit to Gone Axe Throwing for anyone who might want to test out the sport.

“I would say just show up and try it once, and then if you really like it, just join the league,” he said. “They have, I believe, two leagues here: They normally have a Sunday League which is more of a recreational, less competitive league. Then Wednesday, they have the actual WATL league, which is what we compete in. It's a little more competitive, and you'll be throwing with us.”

Randall said the next World Championships won't be until spring of 2024, but he hopes they hold it in another location that's close enough for them all to participate again.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.