5451 Bear Road
North Syracuse, New York 13212
Within NROI, "Armageddon" Holds Sway
by Kim Williams
(Interview originally appeared in Sep/Oct 2004 Issue of Front Sight Magazine)
A veritable icon in USPSA history, John Amidon has been around since the dawn of time. Okay, maybe that's stretching it a bit, but he has been around awhile and he has done more than his fair share for the organization. As vice president and director of NROI, he wears dual hats and shares a great deal of responsibility for helping to make the sport safe and enjoyable for us all.
John resides in North Syracuse, N.Y., with his wife, Maggie. They have five children; three boys and two girls. Until recently, John worked as a terminal manager in the transportation industry. He suffered an injury at home and is awaiting the okay to get back to work. Rest assured, while he may not be working his "9to 5" job he's still hard at work for the members of USPSA. Here's what he had to say when I caught up with him recently:
KW: How did you get started as a shooter?
JA: I started in 1982 with a .357 S&W revolver, went to a Gold Cup and then a Commander's model Colt. Just then, compensators were coming into the game. I went to a Para .45 with a comp, moved up to A class then went full race gun in 1990 when the dot was just coming into the sport. I still hold an A card in Open and of course B in Limited.
KW: What hooked you on this sport? How did you get started way back then?
JA: The pure fun of the sport is what got me hooked. A friend told me about some combat club at his skeet range. I had a magnum handgun that I was not able to shoot indoors, so I went to see the match, and joined up the next month.
KW: What about your experience as staff? Do you remember your certification levels and dates? I know it was sooo long ago!
JA: I took a Level I course in 1983. A year later, I took the Level II. I became an RM in 1989 and then became an instructor in 1990. I have worked at many Nationals, some Area Championships, European Championships, and many local matches. I have been a club president, a section coordinator, an area director, and the VP and director of NROI, I have been involved with the BOD since 1990 in one form or another.
KW: Do you remember how you came to be called "Armageddon", or is it something that just came about over time?
JA: It came about several years ago. Andy Hollar was attempting to clear up the "Us vs. Them" atmosphere, and I was the one put in charge of doing this. While not a pleasant duty, it was necessary. Many of the ROs to this day believe I have two handshakes; the one that welcomes you back, and the one that removes you from staff. In reality, it is the Ro's performance that does it, not the handshake. That's how I got the handle,"Armageddon." I believe that everyone should have fun, but not at someone else's expense.
KW: Do you think the name fits, or does it bother you?
JA: Nicknames are just that, others give them to you. Whether they fit you or not is not the issue, it's how others perceive you that matters. I believe that I give everyone a fair chance, but I also believe that ROs take a responsibility to do their best, and to make this a friendly and fair competition for all. There are certain things that are not acceptable, and a nickname does not change my responsibility to deal with those things.
KW: I remember the instructor's conference when I first heard the story of the two handshakes. After the conference you gave me a big hug before we all went our separate ways. I remember thinking, "If he has two handshakes, I wonder what a hug means!?" It's hard for me to imagine you being considered that "tough as nails" guy so many consider you to be on the range because you always seem to be such a quiet gentleman when we're at the conferences and meetings. But then, I've never worked a match with you either. Is it hard to switch hats like that or do you think you're always the same person on and off the range?
JA: Basically, I am the same person at all times. I consider myself to be fair, but also firm. When I take on the responsibility of RM, I take it seriously. We have a sport that has many consequences for errors. A wrong call could keep a competitor from making the Gold Team for international competition, or being the winner of a match. But a safety issue improperly handled or overlooked could cause more severe consequences. It takes no more effort to do the job right than it does to do it wrong, it just takes commitment.
KW: You've got a lot of experience under your belt. Do you have a favorite match, either from a competitor or staff point of view?
JA: My favorite match cannot be listed as a single match, as there are many. The only Nationals I shot as a competitor was 1990; I started working them from that point on. I guess if I had to use a specific format as my favorite, it would be the Nationals. At these matches, you get to meet many more people and friends.
KW: What about a least favorite?
JA: I have no least favorite match; every match that I attend, the people in charge have gone out of their way to make it enjoyable for everyone. How can you not like the camaraderie?
KW: What's your favorite part of being "behind the scenes"?
JA: I am not so sure that I am behind the scenes. There have been many times at matches that I felt I had a bull's-eye on my back. (laughs) But really, I get to meet and speak with so many people at matches. It is always nice to have a little time to spend with them when they come up to ask a question or just say "hi."
KW: What motivates you to do all you do for the sport?
JA: That camaraderie and the willingness of the members to give of themselves. When I shot my first match I knew no one, yet those at the match made me feel at home, like I was one of them. That feeling is still there today, that is why I am still there as well.
KW: In your opinion, what are the biggest problems facing the organization and how can we fix them?
JA: Growth or refurbishment is needed. The old guard is aging, some are even tiring, and we need new members to come in and take over. Our juniors today will be our match directors and range masters of the future. The BOD has been working on ways to improve membership. I do not know of a single answer to grow our membership, but if each one of us brought a new shooter to each match, I am sure we would retain many.
KW: What do you think USPSA can do to encourage growth?
JA: I think many of the things are already being worked on, flyers in manufacturer's wares that are sent to new gun owners, videos for gun shows, filming of our Nationals then airing them on TV with a reference to the web page -- these are all things that USPSA is doing that will work. Supporting local clubs is another.
KW: Are we as an organization headed in the right direction?
JA: I think so. We have many people volunteering to help address issues and train new members. The BOD is working hard to come up with fun and safe things, bringing rules that are both clear and competitor-friendly is their main goal. It may take some time, but I know these folks, and they are dedicated to our game.
KW: If you could change one thing about this organization, what would you change?
JA: That's not an easy question. There are a couple things that come to mind and I'm not sure they're related. I would like to be able to remove the politics from the game, as well as the loopholes in the rules that fuel the range lawyers. We should be playing the game to win with our shooting skills. Hey, I can dream, can't I? (laughs)
KW: Switching gears now to NROI, what problems do you think our ROs face most often and what can we do to remedy those problems?
JA: Constant rule changes make it difficult for many to keep up with them, but the biggest problem I see is not enough staff at local- through national-level matches. Our sport is based on volunteers; many have sacrificed vacations and the ability to shoot the matches so everyone else can enjoy them. I think if we improve on our growth, this problem may become non-existent.
KW: What can we do to encourage more classes, more staff involvement, and RO retention?
JA: I think we have made some changes to the recertification process that will make it easier for some, and brought back many who had let theirs expire. We just need to keep everyone informed that running a match by the rules is easier when we use trained staff. We should encourage our clubs to seek instructors to come in and train our new members. We need to let the staff know that it is just as much fun working a match as it is shooting one, and when you can do both, it is total enjoyment.
KW: Do you get a sense that there's still a problem with that "Us vs. Them" mentality between ROs and competitors that you mentioned earlier?
JA: I believe that this was a problem in the past, but I do not see it so blatantly as before. There may still be a few that feel they have power and are not sure how to control it, but all in all, I think it has improved.
KW: Is there anything that can be done to fix what remains of it?
JA: As far as correcting it, peer pressure is the best way--communication with match authorities, advising them of a problem with staff, etc. The worst thing that can happen is for someone to ignore it; it cannot go away unless it is addressed.
KW: What advice would you give new ROs just starting out?
JA: Do the best you can at all times, stay current with the rules, and treat the competitors as you would want to be treated. Be fair and review the RO's creed occasionally to remind yourself why you became an RO.
KW: What advice would you give new shooters?
JA: Study the rules; it will help you to become a better shooter. Take at least a level I class, it will help. Never give up accuracy. Speed will come with time and good practice. Have fun and be safe.
KW: Any interesting, amusing, and/or disturbing anecdotes you're willing to share with us?
JA: I believe it was the 1994 Nationals; Troy may remember which year better than I, as I have tried to block it out of my memory. There was a stage that had a target on a flat car running down on some tracks. At the end of the match everyone was trying to get Troy, who was the CRO, and myself to ride this car down the tracks. Troy went first, smooth ride. I went second. Of course, Troy forgot to mention that I should keep my weight back on the car. As it reached peak speed, it must have been 100 miles an hour, (just kidding), the car tilted and the next thing I knew, I was airborne and landed like a pile of --well, I will leave that to your imagination-- on the tracks. By the time of the banquet that night I could hardly walk, let alone shake everyone's hand that won an award. There was a video of this roaming around for many years; I have always tried to get a copy, but no luck-- or maybe it's all luck.
So there you have it: the man, the legend, John Amidon. If you happen to see John on the range, be sure to shake his hand and thank him for all he does for you and this organization.