Monday, September 20, 2010

Joyce Wilson Takes Us Behind The Scenes at IDPA Nationals

It's nearly the end of September, which means that the season is quickly drawing to a close for many competitive shooting organizations. In fact, the IDPA National Championship is being held this week just outside Tulsa Oklahoma. Two hundred and fifty shooters from 8 nations will converge on the Unites States Shooting Academy, one of the finest training facilities in the central US.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Joyce Wilson, Executive Director and Treasurer of IDPA to find out about her background in the shooting sports. Along the way we gained an insiders perspective into the history of IDPA and got an exclusive behind the scenes look at what goes on in putting on one of the largest action pistol shooting events in the United States.

How did you first get started with firearms? Actually, I didn't have any experience as a child and didn't grow up around them. My dad had some rifles and stuff like that but he'd never taken me out shooting or anything along that nature. In kind of an interesting way, my background in firearms started with a bad divorce. I went through a bad separation and felt like I needed to get a concealed carry permit. Not that I ever had to use it or anything like that, but I took a concealed carry class where I was living in West Virginia at the time. I got real interested in shooting, but IDPA wasn't actually formed at that point, so I started with a bit of USPSA.

Your interest in firearms has always been from a personal defense standpoint? You never had any interest in competitive shooting before that? Right, I just didn't grow up around competition.

Did you know Bill Wilson or Ken Hackathorn before getting involved in IDPA? No, I didn't. I didn't know anything about either one of them. I had met Ken shortly after they started IDPA simply because of his involvement in USPSA. I knew of Bill only because of the gun shop and obviously was a big fan of "The best firearms in the world" but I had no idea I would ever get to meet him.

What brought about the genesis of IDPA? Well, Bill got started in USPSA, but as the rules when on and time went by Bill and others decided that they wanted a practical shooting sport and talked to USPSA about starting a practical class. When it became apparent that the other USPSA board members had no interest in a practical class Bill and John and Ken decided "Well, we're just going do it on our own". Bill used his contacts in the industry to line up sponsors and organize things and soon had extraordinary success. The sport grew to 15,000 members in the US and 49 different countries.

Wow, that's incredible growth. Why did you make the decision to move from USPSA over to IDPA? Well, USPSA is a lot of fun, but the classification system is kinda cumbersome. Plus, while I enjoyed the game aspect of USPSA I had gotten my concealed carry permit, taken LFI-I from Massad Ayoob, and IDPA was just a natural fit. It was a lot easier to get involved in than USPSA. You could just pick up any gun and a mag pouch and you could shoot a match. With USPSA you needed the right pouch, the right holster, a tricked out gun, lots and lots of ammunition and even more money. At the time, it was just easier to shoot IDPA.

IDPA Executive Director and Treasurer Joyce Wilson in an undated photo.
There was initially some bad blood and negative reactions when IDPA was first started. Do you think any of this came about from those in the industry who felt it was "safer" politically to focus on action pistol shooting as just a sport and not a self defense oriented activity? I don't think that it was so much that aspect of it, I think it was more that some of them just didn't get along with Bill and Ken and the guys. There was a lot of animosity between both sports, and I know even when I first started with IDPA back in 2000 there were some who referred to IDPA as "I Don't Practice Anymore".

As far as I can tell all of that is gone now. Eventually we were basically able to just reopen the lines of communication and we worked real hard to both support each other. We always are in contact to make sure that our major matches don't conflict.

Let's talk about your upcoming National Match this week in Tulsa Oklahoma at the United States Shooting Academy. IDPA is primarily made up of local organizations, correct? Correct.

Do you have qualifiers or area matches leading up to Nationals? We've got lots of different area matches. Many states organize state championships and often times a few conjoining states will join together for an area match. We have required people now to shoot two area sanctioned matches before they apply to compete at Nationals.

How do you select the ranges where Nationals are held each year? We try to move the match around some, but there are only so many ranges that meet the criteria we need to hold the National Championships. They need a number of pistol bays, usually 8 or more, they need to have facilities for scorers and nearby hotels. They also need to be near a major, at least a regional, airport so that competitors can travel to the match.

It doesn't sound like there are many ranges that can meet all of those requirements. Right, exactly and sometimes we have to compromise. We're always looking for new ranges. We put out feelers in the Tactical Journal and the IDPA website asking if anybody knows of a range that they'd like to see the Nationals at to holler at us. It really helps to have a fairly good sized local club on the ground at that range, simply because we need a core group that can help us with logistics like lunches and port-a-pottys for instance. But yes, we're always looking for new places as well.

Tell us a little bit about the USSA range in Tulsa where you'll be holding Nationals this week. We've got 18 stages in the National Match setup on 9 bays. I think we've got 2 or 3 expo bays set up. That range is just gorgeous. It's huge, I don't think we even use half of it. I know they've got the whole steel challenge set up on one set of bays, and then we use like 9 of their pistol bays, and I think they've still got 3 or 4 more. They've got I don't know how many rifle bays. They've got a 360° bay and just beautiful facilities.

What I would call the "clubhouse" which is actually their headquarters is just a beautiful office building that has classroom space that we use for scoring and they've got a wonderful pro shop set up out there as well. Their staff is just wonderful to work with. We love going over there. This will be the second year that we've been there and it just makes it so easy to go there and put this match on.

It sounds like quite the production. How much time and effort goes in to putting on an event this big? It's basically a year long project. The crunch time is probably the last three months before the match, with the last 4 or 5 weeks really being the super-crunch time. We start literally the day after the match is over making sure that we've got a range for next year, where it's going to be, the format of the match, making sure we've got a match director picked out, and basically starting the whole process over.

The logistics have to be a major hurdle as well. You've got competitors coming in from across the globe and have to arrange shipping and receiving for firearms and ammunition too. Right. We actually have competitors coming in from 7 or 8 foreign countries this year. They can't all bring ammo so we arrange to get them ammo or for them to be able to purchase ammo. Even a lot of the local United States shooters that are flying in that don't want to carry ammo because it's just such a pain in the butt to carry ammo and firearms and all that on commercial airlines anymore. They'll pre ship their stuff in as well.

There are just lots and lots of little details to cover, and I'm so so lucky I've got a wonderful staff here at headquarters. They've been doing this for a while and now it just happens and that's way cool.

Of course, something like this could never be pulled off without all of the sponsors. Tell us a bit about all of the sponsors you've got this year and how critical their participation is. Oh absolutely. We've got I don't know how many sponsors all together this year and I don't want to name a bunch of names because I don't have a listing of them in front of me.

Let me throw a couple out there, we've got Smith & Wesson as a major sponsor this year- Smith & Wesson is always a huge sponsor...

...and the National Shooting Sports Foundation- Always a huge sponsor, and we're really pleased to see you guys as sponsors this year, that's going to be awesome.

Yes, we'll have a team out there debuting our brand new Cheaper Than Dirt! Warrior Truck set up as part of one of the stages this year. Tell me a bit about the competition and some of the top level shooters we can expect to see make a showing at the match. That's awesome, you know there will be lots of great shooters out there as well this year. We've got a lot of sponsored shooters in the match that I know of, just because I know them personally, but there are lots and lots of talent coming up and there is a lot of undiscovered talent out there.

If I can kinda digress for a bit, that's something interesting about the sport as well. The sport is now 13 almost 14 years old and it's interesting to see how much the level of competency has come up in those years. At the first 2 or 3 Nationals it was really something to have 10 or 15 Master Class shooters. I'm not sure we're not a little top heavy on Master Class shooters this year. I'm thinking that we've got somewhere between 80 and 100, which is huge, and what that tells me is that the sport is maturing and that people's skill level has come up so much. We actually really need to re-look at our classification process, which is something that we're doing.

Speaking of up and coming shooters, does IDPA have a Junior's program? We don't have specifically a Junior's program, which is something that we've kicked around and that we need to do. I know that USPSA has a very active Junior's program. We do recognize a High Junior Shooter at the Nationals, but as far as a mentor program or something like that, we really leave that up to the individual clubs. It's difficult enough for some of the clubs to even just host a match once a month, and to keep adding things on to them to be another requirement makes it even more difficult.

So, we are still looking at a Junior program, but the other aspect is that we just don't have a lot of staff here at IDPA headquarters. There's basically just 4 of us. To add more programs means that we have to add more staff, and potentially means that membership fees have to go up. That's something that we don't really want to do in this economic environment, and we haven't had as much interest in a Junior's program. It's kinda one of those things where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and until we get more members saying "Hey, I know lots of kids that want to shoot," I just don't see that big of a demand for it at this point.

Still, we've seen the growth of Junior Shooters in USPSA and I think we're seeing more and more come over to IDPA for a change of pace. It's hard to know specifically. We're seeing obviously an increase in membership, but it's difficult to delineate exactly where those people are coming from. I would suspect, possibly because of the increase in competency that yeah, we're seeing some cross over from USPSA and even some cross over from Cowboy Action.

The good thing is that we all try to work together in the industry, and therefore we encourage our shooters to go shoot other disciplines and hopefully the other disciplines encourage their members to do the same.

Image courtesy
We've really seen, especially recently, that when we do pull together as an industry that we can accomplish incredible things. Exactly, and at this point in time with the political climate, we have got to pull together. Not only the shooting sports but the hunting side and everybody interested in self defense.

For those who can't make it to Nationals you had an IDPA Postal Match last year. Are you doing that again this year? As far as I know, we are. I'd have to double check, that was Robert. He pretty much handles my day-to-day stuff as far as the practical match goes. The Postal Match has gone really well in the past couple of years.

Last year ya'll had over 2,000 entries right? Right. To me, I think that's just neat. It's kind of like a National Match for those who can't make it.

Of course, shooters who want to compete can always just find a local club in their area. Absolutely.

How does one go about finding a local club? The easiest way to find a local club is to just go to our website. Click on your state and look and see what's available. We've got all of the clubs listed along with the club contacts. A lot of the clubs even have their own websites so that you can easily go on and click on that club's website and find out when they shoot and who you need to talk to. You can always call IDPA headquarters too (870-545-3886). We're more than happy to answer questions about where you can go shoot.

Now, on the off chance that somebody can't find a club in their area, how would they go about starting up their own local IDPA club? Well, the first thing they need to do is they need to contact their Area Coordinator and make sure that they've got a Safety Officer class under their belt because all of our club contacts need to be Safety Officer's as well and have taken the class. They don't need to be a Safety Officer Instructor, but they need to have the Safety Officer status. Then they can contact us and we can provide them with the necessary materials and any help that they need in getting the club set up.

I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us today and we can't wait to see you at the National Match and see what the competition has in store for us. Great, I sure appreciate it. It's been a pleasure talking with you too and I certainly appreciate your support of IDPA.

Joyce Wilson lives in North West Arkansas with her husband Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat.

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