The shores of Lake Erie are no stranger to captivating battles, but from August 18-20 a different kind of showdown unfolded at the Crooked Creek Conservation Club in Rome, Ohio. This USPSA match, known as “The Battle for the North Coast,” brought together a total of 189 shooters who all shared a deep passion for competitive shooting.
Behind the scenes, Match Director Bretton Rebol, along with Range Master Paul Hernandez and Range Master in training Derrick Hernandez, worked tirelessly to make sure the event ran like clockwork. The dedication of this dynamic trio was evident in the seamless organization of the match. However, it wasn't just about the experienced hands; it was also about nurturing new talent. Range Master in training Derrick Hernandez brought with him an eagerness to learn. This strong emphasis on training and mentorship truly demonstrates the match's commitment to helping the USPSA program grow.
There’s always a chance of encountering rain at this event due to its location on the shores of Lake Erie. The Crooked Creek Conservation Club often has to contend with heavy rainstorms. Fortunately, the weekend turned out to be beautiful, and the only rain we experienced occurred on Thursday evening, just before the staff started shooting on Friday. The rain was relentless, continuing throughout the night and resulting in waterlogged bays. However, Bretton was well-prepared; he had bags of mulch ready to address the situation. The downpour was so intense that even by Sunday, the final day of shooting, there were still lingering puddles as a testament to the storm’s impact.
The stages, designed by Scott Beebe, struck a perfect balance between fun and challenging, putting the competitors’ skills to the test and pushing them to their limits. Among these stages, four stood out as both fun and challenging to shoot.
Stage 3, “Highs and Lows” was a 32-round, 160-point Comstock course of fire that became interesting when the competitor opened the door. On the left, a drop turner came to life as the door swung open. To the right, a barrel jutted out from the wall. To engage all four targets, the shooter had to manually reposition the barrel, utilizing their shoulder or hand to move the barrel to ensure it was accurately aligned with the targets they needed to engage.
Once all four targets were engaged, competitors turned to the left and fired at several targets through a port, concluding the stage by moving to the left and shooting two double-stacked targets hidden behind barrels.
The stage winner was Mike Weaver, who completed the stage in 20.88 seconds and 147 points. Sammy Nelson secured second place with a time of 19.34 seconds with a total of 143 points. Third place was claimed by Joey Sauerland, who finished the stage in 21.83 seconds and 150 points.
Stage 5, “Got Me Crying,” consisted of an eight-round Comstock speed shoot featuring three USPSA targets and two poppers. Engaging popper P-1 triggered a swinging target, while popper P-2 activated both a drop turner and a max trap. The max trap was not visible at rest. Many competitors opted to disregard the max trap, as it did not have a negative effect on their score. However, ignoring the max trap meant that competitors had to score alphas on both the swinger and the drop turner to achieve a decent score since they were throwing away points to avoid the max trap. Shooting the max trap carried its own risks, as a slow shot could result in hitting a no-shoot target.
The stage was won by pistol-caliber carbine shooter Harrison VanSky, who completed it in an impressive time of 3.76 seconds, acquiring 40 points. Second place was secured by another PCC shooter, Aaron Durika, with a time of 4.56 seconds, securing 38 points, and third place was claimed by open shooter Patches Reader, who completed the stage in 4.34 seconds and 38 points.
Stage 6, “Little Bit,” challenged competitors with a demanding 12-round course that featured three IPSC targets and six steel poppers. The stage design included two arrays, a barricade and a mandatory reload to the shooter's weak hand. This stage proved to be exceptionally challenging and was quite amusing to watch.
Participants had to make a critical decision at the beginning of the stage. On the left side of the barricade, there were six steel poppers, constituting Array 1. On the other hand, Array 2 featured a double-stack IPSC target positioned approximately 40 feet away on the left side of the barricade. On the right side of the barricade was an IPSC target with a no-shoot. The dilemma was whether to shoot the steel weak handed or freestyle.
Based on my observations, most shooters engaged the IPSC targets freestyle while shooting the steel targets weak handed. Unfortunately, this approach led to frustration, as almost every shooter that I witnessed struggled to knock down the steel poppers weak handed. I couldn't help but ask one pistol shooter why he shot the steel array with his weak hand. His response—he was apprehensive about accidentally hitting the no-shoot IPSC targets.
The winner of Stage 6 was Anthony Zabonik with a time of 9.63 seconds and 60 points. Second place went to Corey Scheel with a time of 9.80 seconds and 55 points. Third place went to Darren Harold with a time of 11.07 seconds and 50 points.
Stage 8, “The Voyage” was a 160-point Comstock stage featuring 14 USPSA targets and four poppers. This stage was designed as a memory stage, and it became clear-cut once you stood in the right spot. The stage was comprised of three boxes, and competitors had the option to start from any box. Most shooters preferred starting from the right-hand side and then moving towards the left since the targets were more accessible when starting from the right.
The winner of this stage was Corey Scheel, who completed the stage in an impressive time of 19.43 seconds, scoring 160 points. Second place was secured by Sammy Nelson with a time of 20.44 seconds scoring 158 points, and third place was taken by Mike Weaver with a time of 21.60 seconds scoring 157 points.
The stages were a hit, but no sporting event is complete without great food. Once again, Pat Rebol, our head chef, ensured that both staff and competitors enjoyed the best food around. She even baked the cookies, which were top-notch. A few of us were fortunate enough to be on Pat’s VIP list, and we were treated to her secret lava cake brownie stash. Eating the lava cake brownies was like being in chocolate heaven.
The match also provided an opportunity to pay tribute to individuals who have made significant contributions to the success of the 2023 Battle for the North Coast. During the staff dinner, we had the chance to recognize and celebrate Range Master Paul Hernandez. His step-down as the Range Master for the Battle for the North Coast was acknowledged, along with his pivotal role as the Range Master for the event over the past five years. What struck me most was the remarkable fellowship and unity among the Range Officers, Match Director and Range Masters.
As the Range Officer dinner came to a close, Bretton dropped a bombshell announcement that left everyone in attendance stunned—the Battle of the North Coast will be yielding its spot to the USPSA Area 5 match, with the “Battle” set to return in three years. The news was met with mixed emotions, as competitors, range officers, and staff will miss the unique experiences and camaraderie that this match has brought to their lives over the past six years.
On Sunday, the final day of the match, it was Bretton’s turn to be honored. He was pleasantly surprised to receive a special memento from the United States Marine Corps Shooting Team, who had been participating in the match for the past six years. The gift was a USMC K-Bar knife engraved with the heartfelt message—“Thank you for years of directing a quality and enjoyable match.” I can still see the grin on Bretton’s face as he was absolutely thrilled to receive this honor from the U.S. Marine Corps shooting team.
I will certainly miss the Battle for the North Coast next year, as will many of the competitors and staff. This has been an incredible six-year journey with an exceptionally talented staff, whose connection could be mistaken as family, a bond I’ve never witnessed at any other match I've worked. Bretton vows that the Battle for the North Coast will return in three years. The wait will be a long one. Heartfelt gratitude to Bretton Rebol, Bud Connelly and Paul Hernandez for six amazing years.
See the full results of the 2023 Battle for the North Coast at the Practiscore website.
Article from the November/December 2023 issue of USPSA’s magazine.