by Hap Rocketto
Being a New Englander one can never be far from some of the nation’s greatest philosophers and writers. Not only because Bay State author John Cheever once proclaimed that all literary men are Red Sox fans, but because the Boston area is a hotbed of philosophy and literature that began with the Transcendentalist movement in the early 1800s.
Transcendentalist thought, best represented by the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, is a shooters’ philosophy because it believes that people are at their best when they are self reliant. Others, notably Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, the Alcott family, and my favorite, simply because of his splendid name, Octavius Brooks Frothingham followed Emerson’s path.
About the time the Transcendentalists were at their height. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the five “Fireside Poets”, the first school of American poets who wrote stories of the young nation for the masses, had published The Song of Hiawatha, Evangeline, The Arsenal at Springfield, and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’s Ride.
As a grammar schoolboy in 1950s New London, Connecticut I, like all of my classmates, became intimately acquainted with the shores of Gitchee Gumee, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks, the burnished arms rising from floor to ceiling in the Arsenal like a giant organ, and the eighteenth of April in Seventy Five. We were required to memorize great portions of these lyric poems, as well as all of the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables-one through ten, for it was believed, rightly so in retrospect, that it trained and disciplined us for future academic adventures.
Given several weeks to commit our verses to memory we were called upon to regurgitate them. Ordered to the front of the classroom, standing stiff as a crutch from fright, arms stiffly at our sides, mired in a puddle of Churchill’s blood, sweat, and tears, and possibly another body fluid for the lesser prepared among us, we faced a stern faced Miss Mowry. She peered back at us from the back of the classroom through the top of her bifocals grading our accuracy by ticking off our errors, at a point a piece, with her sharp red pencil as we recited the assigned passage in a wooden manner, bereft of feeling or rhythm.
I can’t help but recall both the rich traditions of the smallbore championships and the terror of a ten year old spieling off lines four and five of Longfellow’s epic on Paul Revere when I think of the upcoming 2015 National Outdoor Smallbore Rifle Championships at the Wa-Ke’-De Range in Bristol, Indiana. The words are still burned into my hippocampus after more than a half of a century, “Hardly a man who is now alive, Who remembers that famous day and year.” They bring to mind the last time the smallbore nationals were not held at Camp Perry and were fired in Jacksonville, Florida in 1952. More importantly there is hardly a man still alive who remembers that famous day and year and its historic firsts, let alone shot there.
The Jacksonville Police Pistol and Rifle Club range was scooped out of a sand pit next to an airport. The sun made the range almost unbearably bright and hot. Heavy mirage was exacerbated by the prop wash and wake turbulence of aircraft. The sponsors, familiar with the local conditions, set up an awning over the firing line and spotted the assembly area with colorful beach umbrellas in an attempt to provide some comfort and protection to the participants. It was a foreshadowing of the Camp Perry firing line of a later era.
The Apache Junior Rifle Club of Phoenix, AZ won the Any Sight Team Championship, the first time a junior team had taken a national smallbore championship. They defeated a U. S. Air Force team of Art Cook, Art Jackson, Allen Luke and John Kelley, as formidable a group of smallbore shooters that could be assembled in those days. For example, Jackson was fresh from a European tour with the United States Shooting Team where his perfect score had won the gold in the World Championships, and, just one point shy of perfection, the bronze in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
The women competing in the 1952 matches gathered together as a team to accept a challenge by the women shooters of England. Brokered by Muriel Bryant, of England, and Eleanor Dunn, of the United States, the two nations would each field a team of ten women to shoot a postal match over the Dewar course on US targets. To enhance the status of the match former NRA president Thurman Randle, donated a large sterling cup to be awarded to the winning team. It was the first Randle Match.
George Whittington presented the first Whittington Trophy to the National Junior Smallbore Rifle Prone Champion,17 year old Charles Rogers.
Although they are no longer shooting competitively veterans of the 1952 matches still follow the sport. Eighty four year old Art Cook has lost none of his interest and enthusiasm for the sport. That might be expected of a man who earned All American honors, became the first person to win both a prone and position outdoor national smallbore championship, and ascend to the center step of the 1948 Olympic podium to have a gold medal hung about his neck. He may be retired from active shooting but will be eagerly following the daily match bulletins, just as he has done every year for so many years.
One has wonder just what historic events and firsts might be in the offing at Bristol in 2015 and whether a shooting sports reporter will be writing about “Hardly a man who is now alive, Who remembers that famous day and year” in 2065.
Category: Hap's Corner