Time for a Change?

Well, another National Skirmish is over, and by all standards it was your regular National Skirmish -- too crowded, too far behind schedule, too many teams, too many speeches, too much to do. Hey, I had a good time, don't get me wrong. But it seems like the idea behind a North-South Skirmish Association National Skirmish is to see how many shooters we can get to the line between 10:30 am on Saturday and 4 pm on Sunday.

Ten years ago, a National Skirmish consisted of three matches -- Carbine and Artillery on Saturday, and Musket on Sunday. And even then, Musket was so crowded it had to be split into two separate phases to accommodate all the teams. Since then, we have added Pistol, Mortar and Henry Team matches to the mix, for a total of six team matches at every National. These new team matches have effectively closed the pistol range on Friday afternoon for individuals, and removed hundreds of individual firing positions from the line for the time to run the Mortar and Henry matches.

The growth in types of competition has undoubtedly lead to an increase in popularity in skirmishing -- an unfortunate double edged sword. National Skirmishes, as they are presently conducted, are overcrowded to the point of bursting Fort Shenandoah at the seams. The N-SSA Board of Directors allows any member organization with the fee to register and compete in the National Skirmishes, because the driving force behind each National is revenue creation, not competition. Take the Carbine Team Match, for example.

The Carbine Team Match begins at 10:30 am on Saturday morning, if it starts on time. At every firing position on the line, there are not one, not two, but three 8-man teams waiting to compete. The first two teams go downrange and hang targets, then fire in order. Then the third team hangs it's targets and fires. There is an empty frame just hanging there, but nobody uses it. If the 3 relay events would hang 1-2, 3-1, 2-3 in order, at least 60 minutes would be saved without any other changes to the National Skirmish format.

But teams that are not competitive are another factor in the length of National Skirmishes. So are teams which field equipment which frequently malfunctions. These teams drag out each event, either by red flagging" the safety check and causing delays while guns are cleared, or by not being capable of finishing events (and then wanting to walk down range to check for "questionable hits"). If the N-SSA required Musket, Carbine, Pistol and Henry Teams to qualify for a place in the National Skirmishes, then the level of competition, and scheduling would certainly improve.

Naturally, this proposal raises the question of what the true purpose of a National Skirmish is. Do we just want to raise money at a national, or do we want to stage a true championship for our exciting sport? How important are Individual competitions? Do we want to take steps to improve competition and shorten Team events to maintain more open positions for individuals? All of these concerns can be addressed by asking units to qualify for the Nationals.

If we eliminated the third relay of the Carbine Team Match, the number of positions available would be at 66% of those presently served, so the top 66% of the teams would be eligible to compete under my proposal. And the time to actually stage the event would be nearly cut in half due to the savings of continually hanging the third relay targets. For Musket Team Matches, eliminating the third relay of the Morning Phase would only eliminate the bottom 20% of Musket Teams (this is compatible with the Hockey and Basketball playoffs, where only the top 80% compete). Eliminating the last relay on the Pistol Team event would mean being able to start the Pistol Team Matches later on Fridays, and would result in competitive rates identical to Carbine -- about 66% of teams would still compete.

All three of these proposals would result in more time for Individual Matches, which have been seriously eroded by the growth of Team Matches at our National Skirmishes. As a matter of fact, I believe that increased revenue from the Sale of Individual Targets would just about offset the loss of Team revenues from requiring qualifications. In one hour of Individual shooting, the range can generate more money then for a comparative amount of time for Team shooting because of turnaround. Shooters can drop in and out of individual shooting, but a team event creates downtime before and after the match and monopolizes the range.

The big question then becomes, how will teams qualify for National Skirmishes? There are many possibilities. Top finishers from the previous National could receive automatic bids -- like the golf and tennis U.S. Opens. The Board of Directors could designate Regional Skirmishes as "qualifiers", and top teams could post qualifying scores in those skirmishes. I favor a point system for qualification standards. For every team that you beat in any approved N-SSA Skirmish, your team would receive a point. For example, if your A-Team finishes 38th in a field of 68 teams, that team would receive 30 qualifying points (q points). The top team at that match would receive 68 q points. At a given date, the top 240 Musket Teams, 120 Carbine Teams, 60 Pistol Teams, etc., would receive invitations to compete. Probationary Teams would be allowed to compete in two Nationals before being required to qualify. Marginal teams could qualify by competing in more events, which should make them better teams, right?

The time as come to advance such a proposal within the N- SSA. Individual competitions would remain open to every N-SSA member, maintaining the plebeian pleasure of our pursuits. National competitions will become more enjoyable, more timely and more competitive. Regional competitions will draw more teams seeking to qualify for the Nationals, improving the quality of those competitions as well. Lost team revenues will be replaced by increased individual revenues. Requiring qualification for National is a Win-Win proposition for the N-SSA, and I hope to see more discussion of this in the future. I can't do anything about the speeches at a National, but these other ideas will save us all time and energy.

So, until the next time, shoot safe and have fun. I hope to see you at the Herrs Ridge Gettysburg event July 4 - 6. Look me up in the Confederate Artillery camp.

(C) 1997 Tom Kelley

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