From the vault: This article covers the 2007 NRA National Police Shooting Championships, where Capt. Phillip Hemphill of the Mississippi Highway Patrol won a record ninth title. As published in the January 2008 issue of Shooting Sports USA.
One Final Shot
By Justin McDaniel
In 1985, Philip Hemphill arrived on the scene at the NRA National Police Shooting Championships as a wide-eyed rookie, eager to prove himself in the world’s most prestigious law enforcement shooting competition. Twenty-two years and an unprecedented nine championships later, the Mississippi Highway Patrol Captain is exiting the NPSC stage for the final time, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that is unlikely to be matched. (Robert Vadasz would go on to eclipse this record.—Ed.)
And he may have saved his best for last.
Even before the world’s best law enforcement shooters arrived at Albuquerque’s Shooting Range Park for the 45th NPSC, Hemphill had announced 2007 would mark his final year of competition in the event. But his closing run at an NPSC title was in no way ceremonial. He wanted to go out on his own terms—on top.
Hemphill made a strong start and never looked back, recording a 1489-113X to take the Revolver 1500 Championship—the first half of the open class national championship equation. After that, Hemphill made the competition his own personal going away party, finishing third in the Semi-Auto 1500 Championship with a score of 1485-97X to claim open-class national champion honors with an aggregate score of 2974-210X.
The national police champion is determined from the combined scores in the Revolver 1500 and Semi-Auto 1500 Championships, with a perfect score being 3000-300X.
“Not only is Philip Hemphill a great friend, but he’s also one of the finest shooters to ever compete in the National Police Shooting Championships,” said former NRA President and retired Police Captain John Sigler. “His accomplishments as a competitor epitomize what this championship is all about—training the men and women of law enforcement to perform at their very best on the job.”
The title was Hemphill’s ninth overall and fourth in a row, both open class national championship records. Hemphill’s victories span three decades, as he won his first championship in Des Moines, IA, in 1988. He then won titles in Jackson, MS, in 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 2003 and 2004 before winning the inaugural NPSC held in Albuquerque in 2006. In 2005, NPSC was cancelled due to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“I actually felt a little more pressure out there today than I did in previous years,” Hemphill said after his victory. “Maybe it was because I was trying to win it for the last time, like one final shot. I tried to keep it all together and do the best I could.”
Title number nine may not have been picture-perfect in terms of scoring, but championships are not earned with style points. Bright sunshine, high glare, wind, and blowing high-desert dust rattled even the most experienced NPSC shooters—Hemphill included—during the four-day tournament, held Oct. 1 to 4.
“It wasn’t a pretty score, but it was good enough to win,” said Hemphill, who plans to focus on bullseye shooting after retiring from NPSC. “It’s all about getting into the proper mindset. Clay Tippit said it best when he won his first national championship. He said that people cannot get too excited out there. They need to pretend they’re at their home shooting range. I don’t like to say this, but it’s true; you need to find a happy place when on the line.”
Kevin Worrell of the U.S. Border Patrol finished second with a score of 2971-205X, and three-time NPSC champion Tippit of U.S. Homeland Security placed third with a 2971-192X. Tippit also won the NRA Special Aggregate Championship, representing the aggregate of all individual matches fired at NPSC.
“I know that I didn’t shoot up to my potential and wish I could have done better,” Worrell said, “but this gives me motivation to improve for next year.”
Commenting on Hemphill’s retirement, Worrell added, “Philip is a good friend, good shooter, and just an overall good person. The National Police Shooting Championships will not be the same without him. He will be missed by everyone here.”
That sentiment was echoed across the board by all of the competitors, even those who lost titles of their own because they had to compete at NPSC during the Hemphill era.
“The chase for me in my young shooting career has been chasing Philip Hemphill,” said Robert Vadasz of the U.S. Border Patrol. “You look forward to the best competition showing up. When Philip shows up, I shoot my best because I know I’m going to have to shoot great to beat him.”
If not for a broken sight during the Revolver 1500 competition, Vadasz may have spoiled Hemphill’s final NPSC appearance. Vadasz fired a 1495-103X to run away with the Semi-Auto 1500 event, winning by a solid seven points. The sight malfunction cost Vadasz dearly in the revolver matches, where he posted a 1476-86X—far below his career average in the event. Even so, he rebounded to finish fourth overall.
“I’m still young in this sport,” said Vadasz, who has been competing at NPSC for seven years. “I know it takes a while for everything to click in this sport and when it does, you become the next Philip Hemphill.”
In stark contrast to Hemphill, NPSC rookie Anna Bailey of South Carolina’s Richland County Sheriff’s Department claimed woman champion honors in the open class with a score of 2957-186X. Bailey beat two NPSC veterans for the win, including second-place woman Stefanie Diaz, a two-time champion from the Los Angeles Police Department, and third-place Gina Hernandez, also a two-time winner from the U.S. Border Patrol.
“Cathy Schroeder, she’s won the championship twice, and we’ve become really good friends, and she gave me a good pep talk,” Bailey said. “She said go out there and do what you know how to do. Once the bullet leaves the gun, concentrate on the next bullet and don’t think about the big picture.”
The magnitude of Bailey’s accomplishment was not lost on her peers, including Diaz, who said that Bailey’s victory was so impressive because she is not a firearms instructor, unlike many NPSC competitors.
“Most of the shooters here are instructors, but Anna is a deputy on the street,” Diaz said. “It’s very difficult to do what she did, but sometimes it’s best to shoot without any expectations. Hopefully she’ll come back every year and defend her title.”
In team competition, the U.S. Border Patrol teams took four out of the eight total categories, winning the World Four-Officer, Semi-Auto Four-Officer, Revolver Four-Officer, and Stock Semi-Auto Four-Officer. The team from Long Beach, CA, won the Revolver Two-Officer and World Semi-Auto Two-Officer. Chicago Police 1 won the Stock Semi-Auto Two-Officer and the Mississippi Highway Patrol won the Semi-Auto Two-Officer.
“Cops are leaders, and when one steps down, there will be others there to fill that void.”In all, 325 competitors from the ranks of federal, state, municipal, and private security agencies, as well as four foreign countries—Canada, Germany, Trinidad & Tobago, and Venezuela—took part in NPSC, which was held in New Mexico for the second time. The value of the NPSC as a training tool was cited by Venezuela’s Karim Bernoti as the reason why his country sends a team to the championship every year.
“My partners are trainers,” said Bernoti, who works for the Policia Metropolitana force for the greater Caracas area, “so we gain the experience to better train the new police officers. Sometimes they help the new police officers to shoot this type of competition in Venezuela.”
With Hemphill’s departure, a new crop of shooters will aim to fill his mammoth shoes. He offered some sage advice at the NPSC awards banquet to those officers looking to take his place. “There’s no big secret to winning the national championship,” Hemphill said. “Just line up the sights and pull the trigger. I know, easier said than done.”
If only it was that simple to follow in the footsteps of a giant.
“Cops are leaders, and when one steps down, there will be others there to fill that void,” said Vadasz. “There’s a collection of fine shooters out here that could take the place of Hemphill next year. But remember, there’s only one Hemphill, and you’re a fool not to recognize him as one of the best pistol shooters in the world.”
See more: A Page From History: The 1970 National Matches