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PROGRAM FEATURE - Oconomowoc Logrolling



Hallett poses with some of the Oconomowoc winners at the World Championships in Hayward, WI, July 2014
(photo courtesy Rich Magnone)


The sea of orange is unmistakable. There are several dozen grade school kids, teenagers, and adults wearing their signature Oconomowoc log rolling orange themed tee shirts. The scene is a familiar one at numerous Pro and amateur log rolling tournaments throughout the Midwest. The shirts are everywhere and the message is clear. The sport of log rolling is growing at a rapidly fast pace in the Milwaukee suburb of Oconomowoc. And very possibly growing into the most successful program the sport has seen in years.

For three decades beginning around 1970, the Hayward, WI area produced several pro log rolling world champions, many of which have continued to dominate the sport today. Other areas throughout Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Nova Scotia have done the same. It appears the next wave could be coming from Milwaukee’s Western suburbs. And a former Pro log roller turned veterinarian is leading the charge.

John Hallett never became a top level world champion log roller. He was a respectable pro who competed in the 1980’s and 90’s during a golden age of champion rollers that included Dan McDonough, Brian Duffy, J.R. Salzman, and Darren Hudson. Those four men have a combined 28 world titles. But Hallett’s log rolling legacy appears to be headed in a very different direction. A direction that could change the sport of log rolling moving forward.

According to the USLRA there are currently 32 amateur log rolling programs in the U.S. with seven amateur divisions (U17 boys, U17 girls, U13 boys, U13 girls, U10 boys, U10 girls, and U7 co-ed). Last summer, Hallett’s Oconomowoc program did the nearly impossible. It won world championships in five of those seven divisions at the Log Rolling World championships in Hayward, WI. Having one amateur athlete bring home a world title is worthy of bragging rights for any log rolling program. Five, on the other hand, puts Oconomowoc in a different stratosphere.


To be clear, John Hallett almost never focuses on winning as a first priority. “I want them to keep coming back,” Hallett says. “I want to encourage rollers that everyone should have a mini goal to work on. If I go run the Boston marathon I’m not out to win it but I’m competing against myself or maybe others in my age group.”

When discussing his program, Hallett continuously gears the conversation away from wins and losses and back to developing each young rollers progress, whether they’re trying to win multiple championships or trying to stay on the log for more than a few seconds. Hallett is a true believer in focusing on individual skills.

“Log rolling is going to help develop balance, coordination, core body strength, develop confidence and self-esteem,” he says. “Because when these kids go to thanksgiving dinner they’re going to be the center of attention because aunts and uncles, and grandparents are going to be saying, wait a minute, you do what? There a lot of benefits and it’s certainly not all about winning.”

“I also think it’s pretty neat when I start out with these kids we do a lot of games and drills”, he says. “Maybe (for some) it’s being able to roll for 5 seconds or ten seconds. And we also have the patches that we award. And that goes back to a Wii game that I tried at a relatives, where you had a board to stand on and it was a skiing game and I kept trying to do a little better, little better, little better. And I kind of thought we can do that in log rolling too, where if the kids succeed, they’ve almost earned that first patch, and then they’re more likely to sign up for that next class. And when they get that patch they get some affirmation that they’re doing things right and I think that’s really important.”

Hallett’s son Torrin is among the success stories produced from the Oconomowoc program. Torrin is currently the 13th ranked professional men’s roller in the world, and agrees that his Dad’s creative style is a big reason why so many good log rollers are coming out of the program. “He tries to identify all the different parts of log rolling,” Torrin says. “He turns them into games like playing catch to work on reaching, jump roping on a log, rolling with your arms behind your back.” Professional women’s roller Katie Rick, who’s also coached several amateur champions in the La Crosse, WI area, is a big believer in Hallett’s teaching style. “A lot of people do things a certain way because that’s how it’s always been done,” she says. “But John thinks outside the box. The thing that makes him awesome is he looks big picture. He can balance the fun which keeps athletes in it for years, with the technical skills to help kids succeed. He’s a true innovator for the sport.”

In recent years Hallett has also become a big advocate of using video technology. Hallett often records his students rolling during practice with an iPad and is able to show them what they’re doing right and wrong as opposed to just telling them. “I can tell them four or five times (the same thing) but kids seem to notice and understand it better when they see it,” he says. “I’ll just say let’s take a look.”

Hallett address competitors at the 5-0 Fast Feet (photo courtesy Mary Ogle)


In the late 1970’s Escanaba, Michigan native and log roller Ken Root introduced the sport of log rolling to several eager students in the Madison, WI area. Among those interested was a Madison teenager named John Hallett, who eventually also became a log rolling instructor in Madison. Among Hallett’s early students was a young grade school girl named Shana Martin, who would go on to win four professional world championships.

In the mid 1980’s, Hallett started rolling professionally and toured in the “Great American Lumberjack Show,” which helped him pay for Veterinarian school. After failed attempts to start his own log rolling program on the east coast, Hallett moved to the western Milwaukee suburb of Oconomowoc, where he started a Veterinarian practice. He also began the process of building what has become one of the top log rolling programs in the country.

Hallett’s vision was aggressive and the process would be difficult. He officially unveiled his new log rolling school in Oconomowoc in 1998. “It wasn’t easy, we contacted the rec department, (eventually) got a grant, got two logs for the community beach and that’s where we started at the beach,” says Hallett. Four years later, in 2002, Hallett decided to try and expand the program to a new state of the art YMCA that was being constructed in Oconomowoc. “I knew we had to do it right away on day one,” Hallett says. “We bought two carpet logs for the Y and were able to get one class a week.”

Hallett’s four year old program was moving along but at a slow pace. “I had to push hard to get any paid staff,” he says. In the early years at the new YMCA, several parents volunteered their time to keep the program afloat, most notably Kyle and Brook Mengwasser, whose son Tom currently rolls in the program. “That was huge,” says Hallett. Eventually the program went from one class a week to four a week with paid instructors.

The hard work was beginning to pay off. Over the next decade the Oconomowoc log rolling school produced two current professional log rollers, Hallett’s son Torrin and Brian Stearns, both currently ranked in the top 15 in the world. Both the younger Hallett and Stearns currently teach for John. In addition to Oconomowoc’s amateur rollers winning an astonishing five amateur world titles last summer, the program also had four other amateur rollers finish in the top three in their respective divisions, bringing the total to nine amateurs finishing in the top three or better. The next closest program had four. “It was really exciting to see everybody whether they won or not, everybody rolled better than they did before and were clearly enjoying themselves and having fun and the side benefit of that was five world championships,” says Hallett.

Several of the top amateurs in Hallett’s program are likely to turn pro in the next five years. It’s a good bet that an Oconomowoc roller could bring home the programs’ first professional world title during that stretch. It’s also a good bet that while John Hallett will be right there with them, he’ll have other things on his mind as well. He’ll probably be on the verge of handing out one of his notable patches to a seven or eight year old at the Oconomowoc Y who stayed on the log for more than five seconds. Or a ten year old who wins their first fall. Maybe a young roller who never wins a tournament but is in need of a confidence boost. There are many more patches to be handed out. There are likely more championships to be won. And there’s a kid in orange working hard to get there.


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