The 2019 USPA National Collegiate Skydiving Championships, held December 26-January 1 at the Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales, was bittersweet, as longtime DZ manager and valued member of the skydiving community Betty Hill lost her 20-year battle with cancer shortly before the event. This was the 10th year that Florida Skydiving Center hosted the event and the second time that DZO Pascoal Rodrigues, who also owns Jump Florida, sent Jump Florida’s fleet of aircraft to assist with lift capacity. Rodrigues and longtime Jump Florida instructor Tim Jones picked up Hill’s duties to make sure that the competition was a success. Extremely competent meet staff, including a veteran judging panel led by Chief Judge Kirk Knight, Meet Director and former USPA Director of Competition James Hayhurst, USPA Controller and current Director of Competition Steve Hubbard and OmniSkoreHD guru Ted Wagner ensured that the competition ran smoothly in Hill’s absence, and all rounds of every discipline completed.
Competitors from eight schools attended for a total of 77 competitors, including one each from Georgia Institute of Technology, New York University and the University of Illinois; five from Western Michigan University; seven from the University of Connecticut; 17 from the U.S. Naval Academy; 22 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; and 24 from the U.S. Air Force Academy. The participants received lots of support, and many family members came to watch the athletes compete. Kamuran Bayrasli, owner of the Ranch Pro Shop in Gardiner, New York, attended in order to support the teams from nearby West Point, and fun jumpers from Skydive Cross Keys in Williamstown, New Jersey, showed up at the DZ to support jumpers from the Naval Academy.
This was the first year that the Collegiates did not include a classic accuracy event, traditionally the first event of the meet. Taking its place, sport accuracy kicked off the competition with 33 competitors in novice, 26 in intermediate and 18 in masters. Plagued by rain and low clouds, the competitors still managed to complete the novice and team sport accuracy events in the first two days. The masters and intermediate competitors completed three of their four rounds in that time, leaving the final round for the final day of competition.
Fifteen teams competed in team sport accuracy, with Air Force Boomers receiving the bronze medal, Air Force Gyration receiving the silver medal, and Army West Point Work Horses taking home the gold. In the novice class, where all competitors must have fewer than 125 jumps, University of Connecticut’s Xiaoying Ma edged out West Point’s JonAnthony Bartley by 5.99 meters to take the bronze, while West Point’s Jordan Davis took the silver. Air Force competitor Eugene Smith—who had fewer than 60 total skydives at the time of the competition—went home with the gold, scoring a total of only 6.22 meters. (In accuracy competition, a competitor’s distance from the target determines their score, so a low score is good.)
After taking a break for the formation skydiving events, the final rounds of intermediate and masters sport accuracy took place on New Year’s Day, the final day of competition. The intermediate class, where competitors must have between 126 and 350 jumps, was very competitive at the top of the leaderboard. Sophia Andel of West Point and Abigail Crosier of the Air Force were .51 meters apart going into round four, and though Andel made it closer to the target on the final round, it wasn’t quite enough to beat Crosier, who ended with a total 0.27 meters less than Andel to take the silver medal, while Andel earned the bronze. Foster Frame of West Point hit a dead center on his final round, securing the gold medal.
The smallest of the accuracy categories, where competitors must have more than 350 skydives, was the masters class. Air Force’s John Arnold hit two dead centers to handily secure the bronze medal with a score of 15.09 meters, while teammate Curtis Smith finished 3.15 meters closer overall to earn the silver. With one dead center, two other rounds with scores of less than a quarter meter and a final round of 3.69 meters, Air Force competitor Matthew Lovetri took the gold with a grand total of 3.96 meters.
2-Way Formation Skydiving
After the weather difficulties during the first two days of the meet, the competitors needed to make early starts on the following days to complete the six formation skydiving events that comprised the rest of the competition. In 2018, USPA split the popular 2-way FS event into two classes: advanced and open. Competitors in either class must have fewer than 125 jumps, but those who have completed more than two hours of tunnel time must compete in open. Consequently, jumpers from West Point comprised all of the open teams this year. The race was extremely tight during all three rounds of competition. In a battle for bronze, Outlanders and Heavyweights finished with 43 points, requiring a tie-breaker round to determine the winner. Heavyweights scored 15 points, while Outlanders scored 16 points to take the medal. Chutes of Glory took the silver medal with 44 points (including an impressive 17 points in round three). Chonk and Chunk finished with 46 points overall and earned the gold.
The 2-way FS advanced class—which saw 10 teams compete—used the same dive draws as the open class, and the race was again close. The Naval Academy’s Canopy Queens finished just out of the medals, three points shy of Air Force Burbin, which finished with a total of 33 points for the bronze. In a battle for the top spots, Turn the Speed Up from the Naval Academy was three points down to Air Force Steezy going into round three. Turn the Speed Up put in a great effort, making up two points on its rival, but finished with the silver just one point overall behind Steezy, which took the gold with a total of 36 points.
Since collegiate skydivers generally have a relatively low level of skydiving experience, the challenging 2-way vertical FS event traditionally sees only a handful of teams compete. Four teams competed this year. Due to an injury to a member of Air Force Downwind, Lovetri, a member of Air Force Triple Threat, flew on both teams. However, Downwind was not eligible for medals and competed as a guest team. Zero Training Jumps from the University of Connecticut (and yes, they really did have zero training jumps) took the third-place spot, two points behind West Point’s Matt Squared, which took the silver with a total of eight points. Guest team Air Force Downwind scored 25 points, while Air Force Triple Threat blew everyone away with 47 total points to win the gold medal.
4- and 6-Way
Following the 2-way events, the 4-way advanced and open FS events began. Unlike in 2-way FS, the teams themselves decide which class of competition—advanced or open—is appropriate to enter. Four teams competed in the advanced class this year. Team Byrne from the Naval Academy couldn’t quite catch up to University of Connecticut team CT True Blue, which took the bronze with an 11.33-point average. Army West Point (ZC)2 took home the silver medal with a 14.5-point average, while their schoolmates on Army West Point Icy Hot finished with a 16.83-point average to take the gold medal.
In the open class, four teams—all from the Air Force Academy—competed. Angels finished with a 13.33-point average, securing the bronze medal ahead of Apollo, which had an 11.5-point average. Boomers took silver with a 20.17-point average, while Shadow took the gold with a 24.83-point average.
Eight teams competed in the last event, 6-way speed, in which teams scores are based on how long it takes to build a formation. As in accuracy, low scores are good. University of Connecticut team Crank it Down finished with an 18.43-second average to earn the bronze medal, while Air Force Hypnotic took the silver with a 16.25-second average. Air Force Mastiff won the gold with a commanding 10.95-second average, including a sub-10-second build during round two of the competition.
The annual competitors’ banquet this year was extremely special, as USPA Executive Director Ed Scott delivered the USPA Gold Medal for Meritorious Service to Chief Judge Kirk Knight. Knight chose to receive this award at this competition due to the continuing work he does within the military and collegiate skydiving community. (More on Knight’s accomplishments is contained in the article “Drive and Dedication—Kirk Knight, D-6709, Receives the USPA Gold Medal for Meritorious Service” in this issue of Parachutist.) Additionally, Scott presented Roger Hill with a commemorative portfolio recognizing his late wife, Betty, for all she had done for skydiving and collegiate competition.
Following the general medals presentations, the judges presented the Most Competitive Collegiate Skydiver award to the Air Force Academy’s Matthew Lovetri, who earned gold medals in masters sport accuracy, 2-way VFS and 6-way speed and set four collegiate records in the 2-way VFS event. Additionally, in a lighthearted moment, the judges recognized Rachel Reilly of the Air Force Academy—who misjudged her sport accuracy landing and caused judge Al Heitz to dive from his chair out of the way—for “outstanding achievement for folding chair relocation and attempted assault on a judge while under canopy.”
Traditionally, the André Istel Memorial Scholarship (established by former USPA Executive Director Jacques André Istel, D-2, in honor of his father) accompanies the Most Competitive Collegiate Skydiver honor. However, if the recipient (like Lovetri) attends a military academy and their education is fully funded, they may donate the scholarship to another individual or school of their choice. This year, as last year, the recipient chose the members of the Skydive Broncos Club at Western Michigan University to receive the scholarship and to recognize their spirit of competition.
Meet Director Hubbard remarked, “These kids showed up last year after driving from Michigan to [Skydive Arizona in] Eloy through a tornado and a blizzard, knowing absolutely nothing. But they showed great sportsmanship.” At the 2018 competition, they received lots of expert advice and guidance, in particular from Sun Path Products representative Doug Barron, who had been a very successful non-military collegiate skydiver and is currently a member of SDC Rhythm XP (the 2019 USPA National Champion of 4-way FS). The Michigan team returned to the Collegiate Nationals this year. Hubbard said, “To have them come back to Collegiates as more experienced, more prepared, much more highly competitive skydivers exemplifies what this competition should be about.”
When the Skydive Broncos received the André Istel Memorial Scholarship from a West Point skydiver in 2018, the members turned around, started a nonprofit organization to help fund skydiving for the club, organized 15 volunteer events through the organization and convinced their school to donate funds for registration fees. This year, after receiving the scholarship from Lovetri, the members of the Broncos decided not to keep it, instead passing it along to Madigan Carroll from the University of Illinois, who came to the event solo. Hubbard remarked, “To see them do this demonstrates what we’ve seen countless times in the sport of skydiving: paying it forward. That is what this sport is all about.”
The 2020 USPA National Collegiate Skydiving Championships will take place over winter break at Skydive Arizona. Any full-time student with at least 25 skydives is eligible to compete. More information on joining the fun at Collegiates is available at uspa.org/competition.