Athol YMCA holds 96th Hatchet Hunt

  • Children participate in this year’s George Washington Hatchet Hunt near the Athol Community Elementary School on Monday. Mike Phillips—

  • Children participate in this year's George Washington Hatchet Hunt near the Athol Community Elementary School, Monday, Feb.19, 2018. Mike Phillips—

  • Children participate in this year's George Washington Hatchet Hunt near the Athol Community Elementary School, Monday, Feb.19, 2018. Mike Phillips—

  • Cody Germaine, 11, of Athol, found the George Washington Hatchet at 9:19 a.m. on Monday. Contributed Photo

  • Andrew Robinson found The Lt. Robert Shepardson Hatchet (named in honor of long-time hunt organizer and volunteer) at 9:02 a.m. Presenting the hatchet is Lt. Shepardson. Contributed Photo—

  • Athol Lions Club members Gail Spring, Roger Spring, Joe Allen and Marilyn Holway manned the food wagon with hot dogs, chips and condiments donated by Hannaford Supermarkets . Contributed Photo—

  • The husband and wife team of Jason and Laura Robinson spend countless hours ensuring a fun and safe day for all. Pictured here are the Robinsons with YMCA Director, Jeanette Robichaud. Contributed Photo—

  • The first bike of the day was won by Noah Kapise, age 8 of Athol. With Noah is Kim Stewart, of Kessler Investments, who donated the bike. Contributed Photo—

  • Alexandra Letourneau enjoys her hot dog after her time in the snow. Contributed Photo—

  • Staff and kids at Y ACES February Vacation Camp enjoyed their time in the snow today. Pictured are Director Megan Shaughnessy, Timmy Gerry (in back) Connor Hess and Bernie LeBlanc. Contributed Photo—

  • Sarah and Dagan LeBlanc take a break from the hunt. Contributed Photo—

  • Parker Sandova, 11, of Holden, found the Johnnie Johnstone Hatchet, at 9:09 a.m. on Monday. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

ATHOL — For the 96th time, hundreds of excited children surged into the woods behind the Athol Community Elementary School lot Monday morning in pursuit of honesty, integrity and dozens of prizes.

Those two character traits, as exemplified in a legend about the nation’s first president, are remembered every year on Presidents’ Day during the town’s George Washington Hatchet Hunt, a children’s scavenger hunt sponsored by the Athol Area YMCA and Athol Fire Department, with assistance from the Lions Club.

“It’s a really fun outdoor event. It was established to promote honesty and kick off February vacation,” said YMCA Executive Director Jeanette Robichaud. “I would say we had about 230 kids. The weather definitely helped today — sunny and warm.”

During the hunt, which is traditionally free and open to the public, prize-seekers search for laminated index cards, hidden in snow throughout the woods between the elementary school and Athol-Royalston Middle School, that correlate to a selection of prizes. Husband and wife volunteers Jason and Laura Robinson spent months preparing for the event, according to a press statement.

The first prize this year was found at 9:02 a.m. by youngster Steven Comeau, two minutes after the start time, and by 10, everything had been accounted for, including three hatchets — the Lt. Robert Shepardson Hatchet (longtime hunt organizer), Johnnie Johnstone Hatchet (the local YMCA’s founder who started the event), and George Washington Memorial. Each hatchet is mounted on a piece of wood and comes with a yearlong membership to the local YMCA and a lifetime of boasting rights. They were found by 11-year-olds Andrew Robinson of Athol, Parker Sandova of Holden and Cody Germaine of Athol, respectively.

Since 1922, the George Washington Hatchet Hunt has provided a chance for the youth of the area to take part in an annual tradition based on honesty and integrity. From its humble beginnings, when Johnnie Johnstone hid a single hatchet in the woods, to last year, when more than 50 great prizes and three hatchets were handed out, there has been amazing support, a press statement about the event says.

The event was founded on a legend (which was fabricated) about George Washington. As it goes, Washington damaged a cherry tree with a hatchet. When confronted by his father, Washington said, “I cannot tell a lie … I did cut it with my hatchet.” Because of that response, Washington’s father forgave him, saying, “I would rather lose a dozen cherry trees than that you should tell one falsehood.”

Over the past century, the Washington legend has taken on a life of its own locally. Among those in attendance Monday were Eric Shepardson, son of Lt. Robert Shepardson, for whom a hatchet has been named, who drove all the way from Maryland with his wife, Adrienne, and daughters Miranda and Kayla.

“We had grandparents who had participated as kids. Three generations who had participated,” Robichaud said. Her husband, Mark Robichaud, and son, Lennon (who is now in college), are among those who hunted for hatchets as children.

While the George Washington Hatchet Hunt was founded on principles of honesty and integrity, Robichaud said its purpose is also to promote outdoor activities. For example, one of the roughly 60 prizes — all of which were donated by area businesses — was a tent and two sleeping bags. Another was a fishing pole and related equipment. Other prizes included toy fire trucks, dolls, video games, puzzles and bikes.

During the event, “a bonfire was ready to help keep everyone warm and hot chocolate was served up with hot dogs and chips donated by Hannaford Supermarkets. Lions Club members Gail Spring, Roger Spring, Joe Allen, John Henry and Marilyn Holway had the food wagon ready to go as Jim Inman from Hannaford served up more than 300 hot dogs to the hungry crowd,” the statement says.

A list of donors

Among those businesses, organizations and people who donated or volunteered were high school students from the Mahar Key Club and Athol High School National Honor Society; the local Fire Department, under the leadership of Chief John Duguay; Pete’s Tire Barns; North Quabbin Masonic Lodge; Tully City Council Club; Athol Savings Bank; Witty’s Funeral Home; Trail Head; and Mann Lumber.

Other donors this year include Susannah Whipps, in memory of Chet Hall; The Athol Lions Club; C and D Towing; Barry and Carol Robichaud of Upper Cuts Barber Shop; Grrr Gear; L. S. Starrett Co.; Kimball Law Office; Orange Gun Club; The Arc; Hannaford Supermarkets; Athol Royalston Regional School District; ACES PTO; The North Worcester County Quabbin Anglers Association; Kessler Investments; Walmart; Valuing Our Children; Never Grow UP; and Flint’s Sales and Service.

“We would also like to thank the Shepardson family, our family and friends for helping out, the Mahar Key Club, Athol Drama Club, and all of the other volunteers that helped make number 96 a success,” a statement posted on the George Washington Hatchet Hunt’s Facebook page says.

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