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The United States Parachute Team Sponsor Developmental Program

October 20, 2011

E-mails and calls we received at headquarters after members read the October Parachutist “Gearing Up” on this program made it clear a 500-word summary was too succinct, leaving some readers with more questions than answers. So here is a full discussion of the program as presented to the board of directors last July and approved unanimously. This is my longest blog ever, so get a cup of coffee and settle in. I think you’ll find it an interesting read.

First, you need to know the long-standing problem this program is designed to solve: our U.S. Teams are woefully underfunded.

Second, it’s important to understand that USPA’s constitution (and its status as a not-for-profit organization) requires that it select, train and send U.S. competitors to international competition. We aren’t doing the best job. The last time we sent a fully funded team to the world championships was circa 1976, when the U.S. team consisted of 10 style and accuracy competitors. Since then, our team has grown to 60 skydivers in six disciplines, too large for member donations to finance the team. The board has wrestled to find a long-term solution to this problem for decades.

To date, the U.S. Parachute Team Trust Fund is the best solution the board has come up with, so let me take a moment to explain how it works.

The money members donate to the U.S. Team generally goes (unless designated otherwise) to the U.S. Parachute Team Trust Fund, currently valued at a little over $588,000.  During world meet years, a portion of the annual Trust Fund earnings is disbursed to the U.S. Parachute Team. Historically the fund has provided around $250 – $450 per competitor—nothing to sneeze at—but only about 10 percent of the direct cost of travel and entry fees. A competitor strives for years to make the U.S. Team and then takes a big financial hit for the privilege. Ouch.

Doesn’t seem right, does it?

Some related math: the Trust Fund would have to be 10 times its current value, at five million dollars, in order to generate a disbursement of $250,000, which would provide each competitor about $4,200. That’s not bad, still less than the amount needed for a pre-WPC training camp, round-trip airfare and entry fees. So how can we accelerate the growth of the trust fund and simultaneously give our U.S. Teams substantial financial support in the meantime?

There’s one proven solution—one most other national athletic teams employ—corporate sponsorship. Hence, the focus of this program is to attract partners and sponsors. A sponsor wants and needs exposure to as many eyes as possible to justify its investment. We’ve learned through hard experience that our USPA Nationals and the exposure our teams get overseas are not sufficient to attract sponsorship. The board concluded that if the U.S. Team performs before American audiences and establishes “brand identity,” it could give us a legitimate shot at real financial sponsorship.

One concern the board had when considering this program was that it might be perceived as a move to take demos away from PRO-rated members. On that issue, it’s important to know there are hundreds of airshows and events each year and we don’t foresee the U.S. Parachute Team doing more than a dozen—so chances are unlikely. However, we can’t guarantee an airshow or event organizer might invite the U.S. Team to do a show that some other skydiving team has done before. No show team ever “owns” rights to an event; the desire for “fresh acts” is part of the airshow business, whether the U.S. Team is involved or not.

That said, we certainly don’t want the U.S. Team to squeeze our brother and sister skydivers from a show they’ve worked long to cultivate. That raises an important part of the program. If the U.S. Team is invited to do a show, we will reach out and ask local demo teams and jumpers to perform with the U.S. Team. If it’s a paid show, they will earn their standard fees (members of the U.S. Team will only be reimbursed travel and per diem). If all we do is break even, we’ve met our primary goal—presenting the U.S. Team to the public in order to attract sponsorship.

Another point: while the immediate goal isn’t sport promotion, this initiative most certainly will generate positive coverage and broad public interest. We will invite local group member DZs to get involved, possibly supplying aircraft, plus local demo jumpers/team and tandem instructors to do VIP jumps before the show, with local skydivers helping staff a booth where U.S. Team merchandise is sold while simultaneously advertising local DZs. It should be a win-win for all.

Some members expressed concern about the $10,000 loan USPA authorized to jumpstart this program. Keep in mind that USPA routinely invests in new ideas and seeds special projects that show promise of enhancing the sport. The loan was made in order to market the team at the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) Convention this December to solicit air show interest. The first $10,000 earned (after show expenses) by the team in 2012 will go back to repay the loan.

By giving a green light to this project, the USPA Board of Directors is meeting its constitutional obligation to the U.S. Team, launching a new program that might help it attract corporate sponsorship. If the plan works, our newer athletes might enjoy a developmental program with paid coaching. Our elite competitors might finally have a way to afford full-time training—leveling the playing field with government-sponsored teams we so often face in world competition.

Some nuts-and-bolts: this December, we’ll present the U. S. Parachute Team to ICAS (and to corporate America through our PR firm) as a performing entity available for select airshows and special events beginning spring of 2012. In our promotional materials, we’ll explain that the U.S. Team will perform with leading USPA PRO-rated jumpers (and pro demo teams, if they are willing and able). Part of the sell is that we intend to be inclusive of established skydiving performers. Together we can make the U.S. Team an attractive brand that corporate America wants to associate with and sponsor.

Before the airshow season begins next spring, we have much to do. Not every member of the U.S. Team has time or talent to take part. However, by reaching out to current and former U.S. Team members and our top demo jumpers, we think we have a pool of about 300 capable skydivers to draw from. From this pool, and with the help of leading demo experts, we’ll run a demo training camp to practice all the elements of show jumping: flag jumps, hi- and lo-variants, pyro, dealing with the media, the public, etc. Some already have experience; for others it will be a steep learning curve.

All who volunteer must understand that this is a building year for a new project, and we will have to bootstrap it largely at our own expense. One big advantage in our favor is the U.S. Team is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, so services and goods-in-kind it receives from members and supporters and any future income from sponsors is tax-deductible.

As Executive Director Ed Scott pointed out to the board, no one knows if this will work. We do know you can’t expect a sponsor without self-promotion and public exposure. Other ideas have been tried without real success. The generosity of our members who donate to the U.S. Team Trust Fund is much appreciated but it only goes so far. We need to move the U.S. Team out of obscurity into the limelight, and this is a bold way to do it, but only with member help and support—especially from our pro demo jumpers—will it succeed.

– Jim Hayhurst, USPA Director of Competition

Records Broken at the Big Boy Pants CP Comp

August 1, 2011

A remarkable 10 national and world records (and 17 personal bests) were set by the world’s best canopy pilots at Mile-Hi Skydiving Center in Longmont, Colorado, this weekend. Highlights included the U.S. and world speed and distance records set in the female category by the PD Factory Team’s Jessica Edgeington (2.301 seconds and 168.32 meters, respectively) and the astounding world distance record set on the first day by Nick Batsch, who lives and trains at Longmont. Jumping only moments after PD Factory Team pilot Jonathan Tagle smashed the standing 181-meter record with a gorgeous 195.65-meter flight, the now-former record-holder Batch flew his NZAerosports “Petra” prototype a mind-boggling 222.45 meters to take his record back. Serving as a judge on the far end of the distance course along with Canadian judge Buzz Bennett, I was privileged to assist Bennett in marking the landing, which was then verified by Chief Judge Marylou Laughlin. It was a transcendent moment of sport for me (this after 40 years in skydiving), like watching Bob Beamon’s historic 29-foot broad jump at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Like Beamon’s world record jump, Batsch’s flight was aided by thin, high-altitude air and a tail wind of 6.7 m/s,  just under the limit of 7 m/s.

National records were also set by Jason Moledzki of Canada, Thomas Morris of Germany, Pablo Hernandez of Spain, and Edson Pacheco of Brazil. Only the world speed record of 2.093 seconds held by Golden Knight Greg Windmiller remained intact after the three days of blazing action, but not for trying, with two competitors, Tagle and Batsch, challenging the record with runs of 2.096 and 2.095 seconds, respectively. Meet sponsor Performance Designs awarded $2,000 to Batsch for his new world record, and an additional $4,000 in prize money was also given to the top five overall competitors: 1) Batsch, 2) Curt Bartholomew, 3) Moledzki, 4) Windmiller and 5) Hernandez.

The only serious injury of the competition was suffered by Warren Cleary of Georgia, who remains hospitalized in stable condition. Many of the prize winners and most competitors and spectators donated money to help Cleary, and the donations were generously matched by Mile-Hi Skydiving.

The FLCPA or PD Factory Team websites will soon be posting complete results.

– Jim Hayhurst, USPA Director of Competition

USPA Competition Blog – Big Boy Pants Comp

July 29, 2011

Who: 26 of the world’s best canopy pilots (by invitation only)

What: Big Boy Pants Canopy Piloting Record Attempts

When: Friday, July 29, through Sunday, July 31

Where: Mile-Hi Skydiving Center, Longmont, Colorado

Why: Set canopy piloting state, national and world records

Practice day is done, the competitor’s brief is complete, the course and judges are ready, and this morning begins the assault on the world’s canopy piloting records. General consensus, based on the practice runs yesterday, is that it’s not a question of if, but of how many times the world records for speed and distance will be surpassed. With the density altitude hovering at 8,000 from mid-morning to late afternoon, we saw some amazing speeds and distances on practice runs yesterday. Today we’ll begin with four rounds of speed, a right-hand carve with a slight following wind from the east. Everyone’s stoked about the format, which allows competitors to bail on bad or even mediocre runs, and then go right back up, make the adjustments, and go all-out on the next run. At the end of the competition, only the best three rounds of speed and accuracy are taken for each competitor, and the ranking from those two events will be combined with the best score out of two rounds of zone accuracy. Performance Designs has put up $6,000 of prize money—$2,000 for a speed world record, $2,000 for a distance world record, and $2,000 to the best overall competitor. My prediction is as follows: three new world speed records will be set, the best run will be sub-2.0 seconds; and six distance world records will be set, the best run will exceed 200 meters. Why fewer speed records? Because you still have to make it around the turn—the speed event is measured over a carving 70-meter arc, so it’s just like a Formula One racer going around a tight turn … you can only go so fast. Hence, the speed advantage of the thin air is limited by the radius of the turn. It’s going to be an exciting three days! Check back soon for updates and another post. I hope to have news of a new world speed record to report.

— James Hayhurst, USPA Director of Competition

Competition News from the Board Meeting in Denver

July 20, 2011

Brian Krause has been selected as team manager for the 2011 Formation Skydiving (FS) World Cup. For the 2011 Dubai Cup, Larry Hill is head of delegation, Lindy Leach is team manager for Canopy Formation and Accuracy, and Shawn Hill is team manager for Canopy Piloting (CP) and FS. The following qualified teams/competitors can expect to be contacted by their respective team manager this month:

Formation Skydiving:
Perris Fury – 4-way, Male/Mixed (official entry)
SDC Rhythm XP – 4-way, Male/Mixed (team 2)
Alpha Armada – 4-way, Female (official entry)

Canopy Formation:
Motley CReW – 4-way Rotation (official entry)
The Next Best Team – 4-way Rotation (team 2)
Maytown Short Stack – 2-way Sequential (official entry)
The Next Best Team – 2-way Sequential (team 2)
The Next Best Team – 4-way Sequential (official entry)

Team Accuracy, Male/Mixed (official entry):
1)    Cheryl Stearns
2)    Jim Hayhurst
3)    Rick Kuhns
4)    Jimmy Drummond
5)    Marius Ivascu

Team Accuracy, Male/Mixed (team 2):
1)    Dennis Murphy
2)    Marty Jones
3)    Edin Alisa
4)    Mery Rose
5)    Samir Kurtovic

The Competition Committee decided that any slots that open up for Dubai will be filled based on results of the 2011 USPA Nationals.

In other competition news, Albert Berchtold will be meet director of the 2011 CP Nationals at Skydive Spaceland in Texas; Chief Judge Judy Celaya will introduce a new, streamlined FS judging procedure at this year’s USPA Nationals at Skydive Arizona in Eloy. Male style & accuracy competitors should expect an e-mail this month requesting their vote on two team selection methods applicable for the 2012 WPC World Parachuting Championships; competitors who don’t receive the e-mail should contact competition@uspa.org.

Standards for national records have been raised; two national judges and one regional judge must validate the record, and 51 percent of the participants on group records attempts must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents per the requirements in Section 1 of the Skydiver’s Competition Manual. Finally, with the board’s approval, USPA Headquarters is moving forward to develop a pilot program to present the U.S. Team at airshows and public events in the near future—an innovative way to earn direct income and attract sponsors for our U.S. Teams.