The 2023 shooting season is off to a great start in the Sunshine State with a successful Florida State USPSA Championship in the books. No strangers to running major USPSA matches, accomplished Match Directors Dan Bernard and Mark Walker ushered in the new year with another exciting Florida State Championship, hosted at the Wyoming Antelope Club (WAC) in Clearwater, Florida. The main match took place January 28-29, with the staff shooting on January 27. Overall, the weather was nice, and the stages were challenging and fun—a combination that made for a great weekend of spirited competition in central Florida.
Over the last year, the WAC Action Shooters had made several significant improvements to the action bays that accommodated most of the 2023 State Championship. A couple of these improvements are worth noting, because they certainly made a positive difference in the overall match experience. Due to the location of the WAC—under one of the main arrival and departure flight paths to Saint Pete-Clearwater International Airport—all the action bays have a concrete ceiling to protect against any stray rounds escaping the range and posing a hazard to local flight traffic. The concrete ceiling tends to trap the sound and it can be quite loud in the action bays. Previously, floor-to-ceiling railroad tie walls separated each of the bays, but these have been replaced by block walls with plywood skins in appropriate areas to absorb shrapnel. Sound dampening and or absorbing materials were used on the walls to mitigate the sound amplification in the relatively confined areas of the action bays. It may look odd at first glance, but it works and is a noticeable improvement. The replacement of the deteriorating railroad tie wall scheme to a solid block wall between the action bays will also provide a more permanent solution in the long run. Hats off to the WAC Action Shooters and many other volunteers who took time out of their schedules over the last year and put in the hard work to make these improvements.
Although not one of the newer additions to the range, the classroom and administrative building that is located next to the action bays served well for a central registration area and stats shack, which is helpful, given that most of the match was happening right outside the building. This gave the rockstar stats crew, J.B. Creech and Trent Cherin, easy access to all the action. Coupled with the lessons learned from this Florida State Championship, the range improvements and updates will undoubtably pay huge dividends for many years to come.
Several of the competitors, along with a few Chief Range Officers and Range Officers, remarked that this year’s stages were designed to test skill and accuracy more than speed. While speed was no doubt a factor, due to the stage designs and variety of ways each stage could be tackled, not to mention target placement and distance, it was clear that a lot of thought went into the overall spread.
With 10 stages in total, plus a chronograph stop and a classifier stage (Stage 7, CM 19-01 HI Jenx), the match was well received by competitors in all USPSA divisions. Even though the action bays at the WAC in some ways limit the type of movement one can incorporate into a stage design or the placement of props and other stage accoutrements, Walker’s creative genius and attention to detail seem to have no limitations.
A particular noteworthy challenge was the double-swinger target array on Stage 2 “Delivery for Jenx.” Once activated by knocking down a steel popper, two standard USPSA targets side-by-side with a thin bit of hard cover down the middle, started to swing left to right. While this may not seem like a big deal as described, it did pose a challenge in terms of shot timing and placement to get the respective hits on paper.
Stage 10 “Put it in Reverse Terry!” was aptly named from a rather comical viral YouTube video some years back (ask Walker for details). This stage started down range on the fault line closest to the first target array, then required a full retreat up range with target arrays on both the left and right sides of the shooting area.
Stage 4 “IDK” had the famed “shaker table” included as part of the shooting area, but thankfully it was not mandatory to take shots from this rather unsteady platform. Of course, there were plenty of drop turners, max traps, and swingers scattered throughout the stages, some requiring steel to fall to activate while others necessitated the good old-fashioned foot stomp on stomp pads.
Challenges aside, the match was well conceived and retained the fair and equitable qualities we have come to expect from the WAC and the great crew under Bernard and Walker’s combined leadership.
Coming away with the 2023 Florida State Championship overall match win, in addition to top honors in Pistol Caliber Carbine division, was Taran Tactical pro shooter Zach Smith out of Simi Valley, California. Smith commented after the match, “I’ve heard great things about the Florida State USPSA Championship, and it did not disappoint. Great turnout and fast high hit factor stages.”
Area Six Director candidate Kyle Stephens put on an impressive show in Open division, coming in at first place and therefore taking home the traveling trophy. Carry Optics division overall win went to Grand Master John Vlieger, while Master class shooter Joey Sauerland battled it out for the win in Limited division. Zachary Campbell came away with the overall win for Production division, and Daniel Kennedy bested Mark Walker for the win in Single Stack division. Scott Factor put his wheel gun to work, and it paid off as he secured the title of 2023 Florida State Champion in Revolver division.
Coming out of the Florida panhandle to take two category wins was up-and-comer junior competitive shooter Ashlyn Champagne, who earned top honors in Junior and Lady categories, respectively. Grand Master Mel Rodero II, competing in Open division, earned the honor of High Senior, while the Super Senior win went to Sherwyn Greenfield, who was also competing in Open division. Category wins for high Law Enforcement and High Military went to Craig McElhaney and Eric Henwood, respectively. Steve Dobbs earned High Foreign category, out of a strong showing of a dozen competitors who attended this year’s Florida State Championship match. A hearty congratulations to all the division and category winners, you certainly earned it.
Reflecting on the match, Stephens said, “The crew at the WAC put together an exceptional Florida State Championship. The real credit goes to the first-class match staff, some even coming down from Area 7 and Area 8 to work the match. Despite the bay constraints, Mark Walker still finds a way to create stages with options that test a diverse set of skills. My last few major matches have felt pretty good. Hopefully, I can keep this momentum going for the rest of the year and defend the title again next year.”
One thing Stephens noted with respect to the match staff that was truly exceptional this year was the strong showing and support from members of other areas and clubs. The diversity of experience and perspectives this brings to any match certainly gives match directors a more robust talent pool to staff a match. Being able to put the right people in the right places generally enables a more reliable degree of overall consistency and competitor equity. However, no match is complete without willing competitors, and once again the Florida State Championship held much appeal, as demonstrated by the significant number of non-Florida residents from around the continental United States, as well as a fair number of folks from other countries that have a strong IPSC and USPSA presence.
The Florida State Championship is arguably one of the more highly anticipated and attended state-level championships throughout the year within the broader USPSA enterprise, and again is a testament to the quality of matches that have been hosted at the WAC under the leadership of Bernard and Walker over the last several years. Although the exact dates haven’t been selected yet, both Bernard and Walker have committed to hosting the 2024 Florida State USPSA Championship at the WAC. So stay tuned for announcements as 2024 gets closer, because there is no doubt they will build upon this year’s success to make next year’s Florida State Championship even better.
View the full results of the 2023 Florida State USPSA Championship at the Practiscore website.
Article from the March/April 2023 issue of USPSA’s magazine.