On Thursday, August 26, dark gray storm clouds and a cacophonous rain swept over the runway at Start Skydiving in Middletown, Ohio, extinguishing the hopes of those in the hangar below. Among those looking skyward and downtrodden were USPA Regional and National Directors, as well as headquarters staff, who had spent the day enjoying the drop zone’s hospitality—chatting with the friendly staff, touring the team rooms and even getting in a few morning jumps. By mid-afternoon, however, thunderheads reclaimed the skies and drove the directors southward on I-75 to Cincinnati, where they did eventually find shelter. The next morning began with sunnier skies, and the USPA Board of Directors gathered for its summer meeting—the sixth and final one of the 2019-2021 term.
Safety and Training
The Safety and Training Committee and Chair Michael Wadkins kept busy during the meetings, bringing a total of 44 motions to a committee vote. One of the topics most deeply discussed throughout all meetings was the role of USPA in promoting inclusivity and principled practices at drop zones. As a result, the board passed a motion to include an instructors’ code of conduct in the Instructional Rating Manual. The added section, crafted with the help of Nicole Richards, D-40124, of Skydive Chicago, defines a series of ethical responsibilities a skydiver accepts when they receive an instructional rating.
The committee also proposed a Basic Safety Requirement for safety checks prior to conducting a student jump, as well as another requiring instructors to have a visibly accessible altimeter during all student jumps. Both motions passed. The board discussed the potential addition of “Low-Altitude Emergencies” Toggle Fire and Low Turn Recovery Drills sections to the B-License Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card, and while no motion passed, all in attendance agreed on the importance of addressing what has been the cause of a large percentage of injuries and fatalities. The committee will spend the next several months fine-tuning the proposal in collaboration with canopy coaching professionals, and an edited version will likely be reintroduced at the 2022 winter meeting.
The board approved a new Military Transition Card, which will be available online, for military jumpers who have completed their respective military freefall courses and wish to receive a USPA A License. They also moved to give examiners the ability to designate an evaluator for each training method in which they have a rating, in order to give rating holders more opportunities to maintain currency.
The Governance Committee, headed by Chair and Mountain Regional Director Ray Lallo, brought forth several motions meant to improve the processes by which USPA functions. USPA’s Governance Manual was modified to describe the election validation process in accordance with New York state law. USPA’s bylaws were also changed, as the board moved to add a section outlining the steps that membership or the board of directors may take to remove a board member should that ever be necessary. The committee also discussed the idea of staggering elections with the goal of easing the transition between terms, but no action was taken. This will be discussed in future meetings, but any change to the election process will require a majority vote from all USPA members.
After electing not to award the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020, the Membership Services Committee, chaired by Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Chris Wagner, chose Marylou Laughlin, D-12418, as the 2021 recipient. Laughlin has contributed to the sport of skydiving and USPA over the span of five decades as a leader, competitor, judge and U.S. representative within the international skydiving community. She served purposefully on the USPA Board of Directors from 1999-2012 and again from 2016-2018, much of which was spent chairing the Competition Committee.
This year, the board awarded three Gold Medals for Meritorious Service, which honors outstanding skydivers who have made significant contributions to the skydiving community over a long period of time. The 2021 recipients are Bram Clement, D-14597; Joannie Murphy, C-9720; and Morris “Mo” Viletto (posthumously), D-5853.
Finally, five individuals were recognized with the Regional Achievement Award, for making a significant contribution to the sport of skydiving on a local or regional level. Those 2021 recipients are Ben Devine (Pacific), Robert Goldman (Northeast), Douglas Hendrix (Northeast), Catherine Young (Southern) and Dustin White (Mountain).
The board also passed a motion that allows the Membership Services Committee to save nominations for USPA Service Awards for future review. In coming years, repeated nominations for the same candidate each year will be unnecessary, as the committee will be considering past nominations, as well as new ones.
USPA Director of Competition Steve Hubbard (left) and Competition Committee Chair Kirk Verner bring the list of committee motions to the attention of the full board..
Many competitors took a well-deserved sabbatical after competing in August’s Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Parachuting Championships in Siberia, but not National Director Kirk Verner. Shortly after returning to the United States, the 8-way formation skydiving world champion headed to Cincinnati for a busy weekend chairing the Competition Committee. Verner is not running for re-election, so this was his last meeting as a member of the board.
The board instructed headquarters staff to create an online portal for members to register for USPA National Championships, as well as giving members the ability to apply for judge ratings online. There was clarification on language regarding the new 4-way FS beginner test event, establishing a minimum B-license requirement. USPA Executive Director Albert Berchtold proposed a 2-way canopy piloting test event, which was approved by the board and is scheduled for 2022, with further details to be determined.
The state-level “Most Lifetime Jumps” record will no longer be tracked. Existing records will continue to exist, but have been officially retired. The board also approved a payment of $5,700, split between all members of the U.S. Parachute Team who competed in this year’s world championships. Finally, the board recognized a $14,000 anonymous donation given in support of the 2021 U.S. Formation Skydiving Team members.
The Group Membership committee, chaired by National Director Mike Mullins, passed a motion to expand the language of the Group Member Pledge requiring drop zones to separate their standard and high-speed landing areas. It was specified that “such separation may be by location or time,” meaning that one physical landing area may alternate between normal and high-speed designations, but never function as both simultaneously. “In normal landing areas,” the added language also stated, “the direction of landing and direction of turns shall be specified, and for each normal landing area, turns may only be in one direction.”
The committee also discussed additional language in the Group Member Pledge ensuring that all jumpers who manifest themselves properly are accounted for by the end of the day. No motion was passed, but the board did not dispute the importance of drop zone staff doing so, and USPA commends Group Member drop zones that have existing systems serving this purpose.
Much of the Regional Directors’ Committee meeting, led by Chair and Southern Regional Director Paul Gholson, was spent discussing the potential addition of a “Sexual Misconduct Resources” addition to the Safety and Training Advisors Handbook. The purpose of the section would be to offer basic knowledge regarding sexual misconduct situations that may occur at drop zones and to provide a list of resources for those involved. No motion was passed, but the topic will continue to be discussed. “We’re going to continue to think about this and address it at future meetings,” said USPA President Chuck Akers. “We want to make sure that we’re not overstepping our boundaries.”
Parachute Industry Association
Though the 2021 Parachute Industry Association Symposium was cancelled, the organization still held its second regular board meeting—simultaneous with and next door to USPA’s board meeting. Many USPA members who were in Cincinnati for PIA found a way to involve themselves with USPA, either by attending meetings or speaking directly with directors and staff. On Saturday night, all were invited to PIA’s celebration dinner for the recipients of their 2020/2021 Distinguished Leadership Awards: former USPA Executive Director Ed Scott, former Director of Government Relations Randy Ottinger and former Director of Safety and Training Jim Crouch.
Detailed minutes from the Summer Board of Directors meeting can be found at uspa.org/bod, and a full account of USPA’s 2020 financials can be found in September’s Parachutist. The 2022 Winter BOD meeting will be held in Houston, Texas, on February 11-13, 2022.