CLARION - Leo and Hillary LeFay don't have an axe to grind but they have a few to throw. They are the owners of Nine Worlds Axe, an axe throwing range in Clarion.
"We bought this building in February," said Hillary LeFay. "There is a lot of space. We built the gym but we still had a lot of space to use.
"Rob Sintobin, a local history teacher, talked to us about axe throwing. We thought it was really cool. Rob is a very skilled carpenter and he basically built everything in here."
The LeFays visited a range and liked it.
"It was kind of like going bowling," said Hillary. "People can be super competitive or just go and hang out.
"I guess you could say axe throwing is like the 21st Century bowling league. You can make it you own just like the bowling."
Hillary explained, "I am half-Norwegian and into the Vikings. We thought that would make a good theme. The name, Nine Worlds Axe, is a reference to Viking mythology."
Germanic and Frankish tribes used the throwing axe in the fifth and sixth century. Today it is usually associated with Vikings.
The axes used at Nine Worlds are more common and can be purchased at many local retail outlets.
The range allows two throwers at a time. Two sides of the range are rough wood and show the marks of many throws.
The interior wall is made of a thick chain link fence just in case an axe takes a bad bounce.
The targets are wooden.
The throwing line is marked in black and a yellow safety line reminds people not to get too close to the thrower's back swing.
"We belong to an international organization that sets down guidelines for tournaments and basic rules," said Hillary.
As with many sports there are certain rules.
The lane assignments are determined by the game of rock paper scissors and the match begins with the throwers clinking their axe heads together.
The LeFays have added a house rule; no photographs of people or even the silhouette of a person may be used as a target.
"We keep it all pretty politically neutral," said Hillary.
The axes that are used are classified by the weight of the head of the axe.
Most axes are between one and one-quarter pounds to one and one-half pounds.
The axes used in competition can be purchased in many retail stores.
The edge is four-inches long. The length of the handle may vary however. The axes are all one sided.
"We are starting our first league in September," said Hillary. "We have experimented with people we know. The league will be similar to bowling.
"Throwers will compete as individuals. Groups, like co-workers, can come in and throw together."
To compete in a league you throw once a week for eight weeks. Each night the thrower gets three matches.
Scoring is similar to darts. The best throwers will be entered into a tournament at the end of the season.
"We had no idea who would be attracted to this sport," said Hillary. "One of our very first groups was a bachelorette party. We have had a few bachelor parties It is a very varied I think we learned a long time ago to not make assumptions."
Added, Leo, "I think the first three groups we had were all women."
"We are open to private parties which is a pretty good thing considering what is going on with the virus right now. You can do something personal with your friends in a safe environment," said Hillary.
No one is a natural at axe throwing so it does take some time to get into the groove.
"The first half hour you will see axes bouncing off the wall, the wire and the ceiling," said Leo. "That is why we have shatter proof lights. We also don't allow open-toed shoes."
Leo continued, "We do have a lot of broken axes handles. Most of the axes are purchased from local hardware stores. They run about $35 in most places. That way people can adapt their own axe."
The next expansion at the MMA building will be the construction of a studio for Hillary who teaches music. She teaches string instruments and voice.
The LeFays are the owners of Clarion Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) at 1130 East Main Street, Clarion.