NRA Divisional Championships: 1914 National Matches

posted on April 1, 2021

"The board decided to make a sweeping change in the manner of conducting the National Matches. Heretofore one great central competition has been held, teams from the service and all the states and territories taking part. This year there will be divisional matches held in various portions of the country. In 1915 the match will again be held at one central place."
—Army and Navy Journal, January 1914

The decision to cancel the government matches in 1912 due in part to conflicts with the Army's training schedule was not popular, so conducting divisional matches in 1914 seemed an appropriate and practical alternative. The theory behind the regional format on even years when the War Department had slated military maneuvers was to not only avoid conflicts with the Army, but to take a different approach at generating interest in shooting throughout the country.

Five sites were originally chosen to host matches this year:

  • Division A: Sea Girt, N.J.
  • Division B: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Division C: Sparta, Wisc.
  • Division D: Fort Riley, Kan.
  • Division E: Portland, Ore.

The plan was to conduct the National Team and Individual Matches at the sites along with a reduced NRA program of events. The government's preoccupation with events on the U.S.-Mexican border, however, caused a delay in the announcement of the match locations and as a result only three sites—Sea Girt, Jacksonville and Fort Riley—actually conducted Board events. The matches at Sparta never developed and those at Portland consisted of just four NRA matches after the NRA granted Oregon's adjutant general permission to conduct the Wimbledon, Leech, Member's and Rapid Fire events as part of the state's annual rifle and revolver competition the last week of August. In the end, 18 teams were represented at the three divisional sites where Board matches were fired: seven at Sea Girt, six at Jacksonville and five at Fort Riley, with an estimated combined attendance of 425.

Vintage Colt advertisement, early 20th century
Colt Firearms advertisement—post-World War I.

No federal appropriation for states to attend the matches was provided, although the national promotion of marksmanship was advanced when what was approved in Congress on April 27 (Statue 370) permitted the Secretary of War to issue "magazine rifles and appendages...not of the existing service model...together with 40 rounds of ball cartridges...for each range...not to exceed a total of 120 rounds per year per rifle clubs organized under the rules of the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice." This provision of obsolete Krags to civilian rifle clubs and schools was a boost to the NRA and NBPRP's mission and capped a years-long campaign that began when the National Board was first created. Repeated attempts to pass the "Rifle Practice Bill" as it was known were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, even though President Theodore Roosevelt personally endorsed it in 1908 in a special message to Congress. And passage of the bill seemed almost certain two years later, when Congressman John Tiffin Hull, Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, and Senator Francis Warren, Chairman of the Senate Military Committee and future NRA President (1925-1927) presented it before the 61st Congress. But despite conditions that appeared to favor the proposal in 1910, free issue privileges were not granted until this year.

Markers and scorers for the divisional matches were not furnished by the War Department, so the duties fell upon non-military personnel, which created situations as described in Arms and the Man:

"The experience has demonstrated the deficiency of help of that kind and it is hoped that remedial provision will be made before another such competition occurs, whereby troops will become available for this military duty...Civilians who are available for such a brief time of duty are, as a rule, persons who are either very youthful, or, if of mature age, of such limited capacity for responsibility as not to be heartily recommended, while both classes have to learn the business at the expense of some competitor. Furthermore, they are not under the service discipline and are not effective at all hours in emergencies as troops would be."

Gen. Bird Spencer oversaw the Sea Girt contests that were held the first week in September and followed the programs of the New York and New Jersey State Rifle Associations. It was here that the NRA set up its temporary headquarters, while Executive Officers at the Jacksonville and Fort Riley matches in October were Generals J. Clifford Foster and Charles Martin, respectively. The program at each site featured the three National Divisional Matches, team, individual and pistol, so scores could be compared to determine overall winners. The abbreviated NRA programs featured up to 11 matches and varied among the three sites. The Enlisted Men's Team and Company Team Matches were not fired at Fort Riley when not enough teams were present at the beginning of the tournament. Instead, an impromptu interstate match was held by the two teams in attendance at the time, Kansas and Arizona. Eventually, the field of teams expanded to include Indiana, the Army and the Kansas State Agricultural College.

Jacksonville National Divisional Match, 1914
The ranges in Jacksonville were superb. Particularly popular was the tree-lined background for the targets, which made them easy to see, as well as the generous number of firing points. This view shows the 200-yard firing line and targets with ranges out to 1,000 yards extending to the left.

An individual pistol match was part of the NRA program in Jacksonville, but only because the planned team match had no entries. And what was fired at all three locations were the Wimbledon, Leech, Rapid Fire, Regimental Team and Individual Championship Matches, although the latter was fired minus the 200-yard stage at Fort Riley.

In the National Team Divisional Match, Massachusetts fired the high overall score out of Sea Girt in a contest that did not include a skirmish run based on the omission of skirmishing in the Small Arms Firing Manual of 1913. And under the same conditions, the National Individual Divisional Match was shot, with tie scores fired by Marine Pvt. C.C. Terry at Sea Girt and Sgt. E.E. Walters of Mississippi at Jacksonville. The Divisional Pistol Match offered a wider range of scores from the three sites, and Army Lt. W.B. Loughborough at Sea Girt was high man overall. The wide variance in scores was attributed to the change in service arm from revolver to .45 Automatic.

1914 NRA National Divisional Matches Medals
The selection of medals here includes awards given at Sea Girt and Jacksonville. Each medal is for a specific contest and location, and each is marked accordingly.

Among the NRA matches at Sea Girt, the Individual Championship was won by Capt. K.K.V. Casey. For the most part, scores posted at Sea Girt were higher than those fired at the other sites, although the Wimbledon winner there (Navy Lt. Willis Lee Jr.) and the Jacksonville Wimbledon champion (Capt. W.H. Hyde) both fired 96s. The Tennessee-based Hyde dominated the southern division as he also fired the high score on site in the Leech, Rapid Fire Match and Members' Match. The top scores in these three matches overall, however, were registered at Sea Girt by Capt. W.H. Richard, Sgt. I.D. Chandler and Col. J.D. Upton, respectively.

Because of the disjointed and variant nature of the divisional programs this year, national trophies were not awarded. Rather, medals were presented to the match winners at the respective locations. The medals were fashioned as replicas of the prestigious trophies they replaced and bars that hung from the medallion indicated the division location. Reports indicate that some medals were made in advance and therefore never used in cases where matches weren't held.

"They (National Divisional Matches were an experimental substitute for the great National Matches. They were undertaken because the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice was told it would be impossible to furnish troops to conduct a combined National Match in 1914. As a substitute they have proven a failure."
—Arms and the Man, September 1914

1914 NRA National Divisional Matches locations

Photo: The five sites for the 1914 National Divisional Matches were scattered across the United States (planned for Sea Girt, N.J., Jacksonville, Fla., Fort Riley, Kan., Sparta, Wisc., and Portland, Ore.). Only Sea Girt, Jacksonville and Fort Riley actually conducted firing.

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