Geezers – now called Legend of the Geezers – is an opportunity for older climbers, those with the regular tree-climbing championships in their rearview mirror, to still take part in competitive tree climbing. It takes place each January in Florida (no big surprise there, right?). Those who take part, whether as climbers, organizers, volunteers or spectators, look forward to the event all year long.
Geezers and the Florida Chapter ISA Tree Climbing Championships (TCCs) were my introduction to tree care. They’re also why I (Danae Jackson) am still here. Geezers is where I found a tree family that believed in me, supported me and encouraged me. I’ve helped organize the competition since 2008, when I was in my mid-20s. I’m proud to say that I now am a Geezer. (Geezers must be at least 40 years old the day of the competition to compete.)
For those who take part in Geezers, never forgetting where we came from and paying it forward is why we do what we do.
At the start
In the early 2000s, Bruce Smith, past Florida ISA president and ISA TCC chair; Lita Sciturro-Smith, Bruce Smith’s business partner and life partner; Scott Prophett; and Scotty Olson were the “regular” set-up team for the Florida Chapter TCC, which takes place every spring. At that time, production tree climbers over age 40 were few and far between, and this crew liked to play. Someone needed to complete the dry runs for the competition, and this crew was competitive. All had placed among the top-three finishers in at least one Florida TCC event. The first three years of the Geezers Challenge/The Lorax Cup, its name then, pretty much consisted of these dry runs. As such, they had to be held before the Florida ISA TCC.
Janet Maland, of the Windermere Tree Board, asked Geezers to hold the event during the Windermere, Florida, Arbor Day celebration. In Florida, Arbor Day is celebrated the third Friday in January. On the fourth year of the event, Windermere became the event’s new home.
Maland was retiring in 2008, and the core team wanted to send her off with a bang. North American Training Solutions (NATS) would hold a class, without letting Janet know. After many years of hurricane work, the core team knew aerial-rescue training was needed in our industry. They also knew fire department high-angle rescue teams were an imperative part of this training. So the training was held with the Orange County Fire Department (OCFD) and was a huge success – as was Janet’s sendoff – and another element was added to the event.
For several years after, the training day included NATS and the OCFD High Angle Rescue Team collaborating on aerial-rescue training. After a few years off, we resumed our annual aerial-rescue-
training day with OCFD this year.
As the event grew, we did not just use Town Square Park in Windermere, but also its Central Park. We did not just have the competition and training day, but also included a kids’ climb for children. Organizers also took this opportunity to teach young climbers who were competing or looking to compete in their chapter’s competition. At Windermere in 2016, Geezers was awarded a TCIA ASTI grant for Electric Hazards Awareness Program (EHAP) training as one of the sessions.
After many years holding the event in Windermere, we knew, as tree lovers and arborists, those trees needed a rest. Staying in the local Orlando vicinity was important to us. So we started to look at camps, state parks and local city and town parks. Having had success with the Florida Chapter TCC in the city of Apopka, we reached out to the city of Apopka Camp Wewa staff to see if it was possible to host the 2021 event there. Our proposal was well received by the staff, city council and city of Apopka mayor, Bryan Nelson, and was approved. But Nelson was not content to sit and observe by the sidelines. He has insisted on climbing with the arborists each year.
Each location has generously not charged for the event space, and instead has bartered for much-needed tree care in return. This included plant healthcare, hazard and structural pruning and removals. In moving to a new location, we have an agreement with the city of Apopka to provide the in-kind amount of tree care. In 2022, the total in-kind tree care donations came to approximately $80,000.
The 2023 in-kind donations included 1,242 labor hours over three days. They also included crane and grapple services, disposal, crew donations and other equipment use. All told, the total came to more than $131,700 in value. For our part, we aren’t only getting a location in which to learn from each other and hone our craft. We also have an opportunity to show the public what proper arboriculture is. And we get to provide a city with much-needed work that it otherwise would not receive.
The Legend of the Geezers, the name adopted in 2021 for the event, is 100% funded by donations. We do not charge for classes or competitions. Each year, we are amazed by the support we receive from manufacturers, retailers, gear suppliers, individual volunteers and competitors.
Competitors and volunteers come from not only the local Florida vicinity, but from all around the U.S. and the world. Recent attendees have hailed from Canada, Barbados, Brazil, the United Kingdom, France and Austria. This wide range of ages, hometowns, native languages and nationalities brings an opportunity to learn from one another and grow. From multi-year ITCC champions, second- and third-generation climbers, greenhorns, family members and friends of “treeple” (tree people), there is a place for everyone, and everyone is welcome. In fact, after meeting in person for the first time at Geezers, Chip Hildreth, owner of Arbor Carolina Tree Professionals LLC, and arborist Nora Bryan decided it was the perfect place for a wedding.
Each year, we take the time to remember those who are no longer with us with a fallen-climber table. This year we included a Legends table with pictures of those we are missing, including Terry Roundtree, Bob Brennan, Tom Hanson, Paul Goodman, Luke Hill, Bruce Smith, Darcy Meagher and Ron Price.
Geezers has had as many collaborators as members of its team over the years as it has had names. The names have included the Geezers Challenge, The Lorax Cup, Geezers in the Treezers, Legends and now Legend of the Geezers.
Past event organizers include Bruce Smith, Lita Sciturro-Smith, Scott Prophett, The Official Unofficial Tree Climbing Championship Training Team, including Erin Coates and Chris Coates, and the Town of Windermere Tree Board members, especially Janet Maland, Theresa Schretzmann-Myers and Susan Carter. Current event organizers include Scotty Olson, Adam Jackson and myself, Danae Jackson. Each iteration has grown the event, added to it, made it better and, most important, paid it forward.
This year the Legend of the Geezers competition took place January 19-22. Find the results here. The 2024 event is scheduled for January 15-22, with competition planned January 19-21. If you are over 40 and still love to climb, plan to take part. For anyone else, regardless of age, plan to volunteer or attend. Everyone is invited, and there is something at Geezers for everyone.
Danae Jackson, CTSP, ISA Certified Tree Worker – Climber Specialist, is an at-height business developer based in Apopka, Fla., for Redwing Rigging Solutions, a three-year TCIA corporate member company based in Mount Hope, West Virginia.
Scotty David Olson, TCIA Qualified Crew Leader (QCL), ISA Certified Arborist, Certified Tree Worker – Climber Specialist and Certified Crane Operator, is a crane operator and crew leader with Arborscapes, a nine-year TCIA member company based in Pineville, North Carolina.