by Hap Rocketto
Each year, at the National Smallbore Rifle Championships, with a gaggle of unenthusiastic juniors in tow, I make for the NRA Trophy Room to insure that the kids see these magnificent works of art and begin to appreciate the many fine riflemen and women who have earned them. Too often the history of the sport is ignored in the heat and excitement of competition and, as time passes, much history can be lost if we don’t insure that those who come behind us learn about those who came before us.
I am reminded, and remind my unwilling charges, of the many contributions these shooting giants made in the areas of good sportsmanship, technical development, mental training, and sheer perseverance. As we wander down the rows of trophies I tell them how Vere Hamer and Lones Wigger challenged their own posted scores when they knew the numbers on the board where higher than they actually shot, costing them championships. I point out on the Critchfield Trophy the names of Eric Johnson, the great barrel maker from Connecticut, and Kevin Nevius, who built rifles that Paul Gideon and he used to win the national championship. The Krilling Trophy can’t be ignored as it is named in honor of the first person to shoot a 3200 and a coach by which all others are measured. For resolve who can beat Ken Johnson who won two consecutive prone championship after losing a leg. When I think of them I can’t help but remember Sir Isaac Newton’s words to Robert Hooke, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We would not be where we are in this sport if not for those who went before us.
I must admit that the show off in me is never far below the surface as I try to dazzle my reluctant retinue with interesting tidbits about the trophies. I hope that they notice that the first names engraved on the Hughes Trophies, what we colloquially know as The Whistler Boys, is that of Robert Hughes, son of the donor. His brother Roger’s name adorns its twin. Both boys went onto Ohio State University where they became some of the earliest collegiate All Americans in Rifle.
How about the Mary C. Camp Trophy? Do they care to know that there are two of them? One is awarded to the high woman in the smallbore position matches and the other is presented to the winning team in the National Police Championships.
I’ll stop at the Volunteer Trophy and tell them, as they hide their yawns, that this trophy is unusual as it is the only trophy that has the names of all of the donors who made it possible engraved upon its back. It is also the only trophy presented in all three Perry disciplines, to the best junior pistol shot, the collegiate smallbore position champion, and the high scoring woman in the service rifle championship.
Puffed up with hubris I can’t pass up immodestly pointing out the Rheinische-Westfalischen-Sprengstoff Challenge Trophy. After all, my name is on it, as is the NRA Distinguished Smallbore Position Rifle Award plaque and it is also recorded in the book which holds the names of the members of the 1600 club. Self absorbed as I am in recalling my own 15 minutes of fame their eye rolling and stifled yawns go unnoticed.
One year I made it a point to showcase to my impatient charges the trophies of all people I knew, shot against, and have gone onto their reward. I droned on, “The Dick Danik Trophy is given to the high scoring visitor in the prone matches. Dick was a friend from England who had passed away a few years ago. This statue is in memory of Walt Tomsen, Olympic medalist and Perry hut mate, who bedded my position rifle. The man who made the sights I use on my prone rifle, Sam Gates, has this trophy named in his honor. D.I. Boyd, a world champion, who would drop by my home when he visited relatives in my home town, is memorialized by two trophies. The late Frank Boyd, a New Jersey rifleman, with whom I shared a point and a few tall tales, is honored by this bronze.” There were others, like the Dunn, Alves and Driver Trophies and I told the kids, who would rather have been somewhere else, that there are 42 outdoor smallbore trophies of which 27 are named after people and I knew 11 of them.
Little did I know just how boring, self serving, and pompous I must have appeared in my honest attempt to insure that the kids had a historical perspective. However, kids being kids, I was soon reminded of my folly.
As we emerged into the heat and humidity of a Perry July afternoon, I am sure all that kept my brood under control was the welcomed air conditioning, one of the juniors blinked his eyes as he got used to the daylight and said he had a question. I was enthralled with the thought that I might have made them more aware of their heritage. But, as the Good Book says, “Pride goeth before the fall.”
“Hey, Hap, you must have been shooting a real long time” he said.
Forgetting that time flies when you are having fun I replied, “Oh, not really all that long, I guess.”
I knew he had been listening to my litany on past great rifleman and the trophies that memorialize them when he piped back, “Not long? If that is true then how come most all of the guys you shot against are dead?”