State Director Info
- 37 years United States Marine Corps
- Expert in Rifle and Pistol
- Match executive officer, Western Division Matches, USMC (seven times)
- Match executive officer, Marine Corps Championship Match
- John C. Garand Match Awards
- Police Pistol Distinguished Shooter
Winning is secondary but comes often for California Grizzlies
By Sheri Trusty, CMP Feature Writer
Each year at Camp Perry, two new names are added to the Freedom’s Fire Trophy which honors the first-place team in the National Trophy Junior Team Match. Since the trophy’s creation in 2009, five of those teams have come from the California Grizzlies, which made a mark at the National Matches under the unique leadership philosophies of coaches Jim O’Connell and John-Alistair George.
To O’Connell and George, shooting skills are foundational to the success of a marksman but not the primary focus of their instruction. Instead, the pair teach lifelong skills that help the Grizzlies thrive on and off the range. Winning is a secondary goal for the coaches. Building strong humans comes first.
“We teach a lot of the fundamentals of shooting, but then we turn it around and teach them to respect their teammates, respect the military personnel, and respect Camp Perry and the history here,” George said. “When you give kids a bigger purpose than winning, that translates into better shooting.”
That character training starts long before the team arrives at Camp Perry. O’Connell, a retired Marine and Nationally Distinguished High Master, has hosted “Camp O’Connell” for the Grizzlies for the last 14 years.
“When they first started, they were just a small group, so I started a clinic at the Coalinga Rifle Range, and I train them for a week. They pitch their tents and camp there,” O’Connell said.
George said the camp greatly impacted the team.
“He runs us through the Rattle Battle to practice for that, and we practice a lot of teambuilding and bonding,” George said. “For us, shooting comes second. We lay a life foundation that they work on.”
The Rattle Battle practice gives the team an edge at Camp Perry.
“At the junior level, not many teams train for Rattle Battle,” O’Connell said. “Because we train for it, if we have good zeroes and good wind calls, we’re likely to win. One year, the juniors won everything – high overall, high junior team and high civilian team.”
Teambuilding is a focal point of the Grizzlies’ coaching philosophy.
“A lot of our success has to do with the fact that they’re a team and have to learn to work together. They’re like a chain. You’re only as strong as the weakest link,” O’Connell said. “Wherever we go, we walk as a group. We’re always together. If one guy slows down, you don’t leave him behind. We work as a unit. Shooting skills will get you there, but the team thing – that’s what helps you do well in a team match.”
The Grizzlies are a team, but they are a team of individual, highly skilled marksmen who want to earn the right to compete in team matches at Camp Perry.
“Selection for the team is not done until we get here. It’s based on your scores when you’re here, so you can shoot your way onto the team,” O’Connell said. “It’s important for them to know they still have the possibility to get on the team.”
Entwined within the training on teamwork is the coaches’ effort to give the Grizzlies the tools they need to flourish as marksmen and as individuals.
“We create an environment where they can perform the best they can. There’s no stress. They just go out there and do what they do. We want our kids to succeed, but we want to do it in a way that elevates them,” George said. “We have the opportunity to mold these kids into the best versions of themselves. We don’t put up guardrails. We create an environment where they can thrive.”
George said the team faces unique challenges training with AR-15s in a state that is not gun-friendly, but they turned those disadvantages into strengths to build a strong winning record.
“This match is very special to us from California because we have our own challenges and restrictions,” George said. “At one time, California banned all service rifles and we had to use bolt action rifles. That put us at a great disadvantage but we did what needed to be done.”
Throughout the years, California law forced the Grizzlies to utilize bullet buttons, restricted adjustable stocks, and disallowed pistol grips. In the end, the challenges turned the Grizzlies into a stronger team.
“All the things that initially should have put us at a disadvantage made us focus on principles and made us better over time,” George said. “We had to change the way we taught the kids, and it made them better. They had to pay more attention to what they did.”
O’Connell and George could have applied their skill and success to something other than young marksmen, but they believe the extra effort they put into the Grizzlies pays off in winning records and successful kids, some of whom eventually became members of the Army Marksmanship Unit.
“What I like best about teaching juniors is, the ones we have usually stay around a while. We get them from 12 or 13-years old to college,” O’Connell said. “We watch them grow and get better each year. You don’t mind putting time into them because they’re developing.”
Bickar Achieves Dual Victories with Late Mother’s Pistol
By Jennifer Green, CMP Feature Writer
John Bickar of Menlo Park, California, made his return to Camp Perry after 22 years, competing for the 10th time in the National Matches. He had an impressive performance at the 2023 National Pistol Matches, most notably winning the President’s 100 with a score of 386-13X and taking home the Oglethorpe trophy on his team, CRPA Scarlet, with a score of 1106-21X. Scores like that take work, and he was able to achieve success with training, preparation, support from his team, and a lifelong dedication to the sport.
The 1911 pistol Bickar used in the match holds extra meaning for him. With his personal gun at the gunsmith for maintenance due to 30 years of use, he pulled his mother Judy’s pistol out of the safe to use in practice and matches. His scores kept going up with his mom’s pistol and at a certain point he decided to use it as his main gun. He explained, “It was really meaningful for me to shoot that gun and win the Oglethorpe Trophy with my team, and to be able to win the President’s Match with it.” Before she passed away in 2003, Judy had earned 6 points while pursuing her Distinguished Pistol Badge.
Judy and John weren’t the only Bickars to shoot pistol. John’s dad Frank, who passed away in 1994, was the president of the Canton McKinley Rifle and Pistol Club in Canton, Ohio for 17 years and the Memorial Canton CMP Championship is named for him. John grew up watching his dad shoot in matches, eventually deciding that it might be more fun to shoot than to watch.
While shooting the 2023 President’s 100 and NTI Matches, he noticed some kids hanging around with their dads. It reminded him of the early days with his own father, whose advice carried him through the tough President’s 100 Match. “My father used to say, you don’t shoot for your average, shoot for your personal best every match. That’s what I do.”
In addition, using his father’s wisdom, Bickar was able to utilize his years of training to stay mentally prepared throughout his matches. “I had to manage my expectations and energy level… making sure I’m bringing my best self to the line all the time. Not getting too low or too high.”
John experienced a high point when he learned that he had placed first in the President’s 100 and was waiting for the NTI to start. His teammate Matt helped him stay focused as his adrenaline spiked. “I still needed to bring in a new good number for my team.”
John earned his Distinguished Pistol Badge #1017 in 1993 at the age of 16, the youngest to do so at the time. He continued to shoot pistol in college, competing in International style shooting and moving into the Olympic Training Center where he lived and trained for five years.
During that time, he traveled to many competitions including World Championships, Pan American Games, Championship of the Americas, and World Cup, all while continuing to shoot Bullseye Pistol. He earned his Distinguished International Badge #446 in 2001, adding to his accomplishments, and in 2018, Bickar earned his Distinguished Rifleman Badge #2385. John also earned the .22 Rimfire Pistol Distinguished Badge #25 in 2016.
Although Bickar has many individual accomplishments, deservedly so, he is much more interested in supporting his team. He is a team player through and through, in fact, every time I tried to track him down for a photo after he won the President’s 100, John was busy focusing on his teams, CRPA Scarlet and Ultradot.
Jordan Kramp, Brian Mason, and Matthew Early joined forces with Bickar and set their sights on winning the Oglethorpe Trophy, which is awarded to the highest scoring civilian team in the National Trophy Pistol Team Match. A California team hasn’t won it since 1985, and CRPA Scarlet was determined to break that 38-year streak.
Since the fall of 2022, the team has been training and preparing in northern California. They would text each other with encouragement and keep positive attitudes. When the day of the match came, the weather was less than favorable, raining nearly all day, mostly in a steady downpour. John joked, “Usually it’s called precision pistol, that day we called it attrition pistol.” Even with rain gear everybody was soaked to the bone, squinting through raindrops to see their sights, and relying on their teammates to push through each shot with a positive mindset.
The rain was no match for CRPA Scarlet. They carried on business as usual, depending on each other to do exactly as they planned, “Go up there and shoot, do your job, do what you know how to do and get it done.” The team was victorious, they won the Oglethorpe Trophy and placed second overall, just behind the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Blue Team. John added, “I’m really proud to shoot with these three gentlemen, it was the highlight, more so than winning the President’s Match.”
If you are interested in shooting Bullseye Pistol, John recommends entering matches at your local club. The pistol shooting community is excited to share their passion with newer folks. Just last week, Bickar witnessed pistol competitor, Jonathan Shue, running up and down the line looking for a .22 conversion magazine for another competitor who was having malfunctions. All while he was shooting his own match. “The beauty of this sport is that people will bend over backwards to help you. Just get out there and shoot!”
I’ll leave you with John’s rules. In order, they are: show up, be safe, have fun. Everything else is gravy.
To find a local match or clinic, visit the CMP website at https://ct.thecmp.org/app/v1/index.php?do=match&task=search.
Junior Feature: Lauren “Sissy” Wood of the California Grizzlies
Lauren “Sissy” Wood, 18, has been a member of the California Grizzlies Junior Highpower Rifle Team for the last five years. At the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s (CMP) Talladega Highpower Regional Cup Matches in July 2020, she earned the High Woman title of the Cup Events and also joined teammate Dustin Carr to earn third place overall in the Two-Man Team match.
At the 2019 National Matches, Sissy earned third overall in the High Civilian category and was the first overall junior in the Day 2 slow fire in the CMP Cup 1,000 Aggregate Match. She also fired in the National Trophy Team and the National Trophy Infantry Team (Rattle Battle) competitions, placing second High Junior with her Grizzlies team in both events.
How did you get into competitive shooting?
I originally started shooting .22s as an eight year old with my dad. Every month, he would take me to the local gun club’s junior day, and I would get to shoot. I did that until I was in about 7th grade. That’s when my dad also got me into highpower. Ever since then, I’ve been shooting highpower with the Grizzlies.
Do you only shoot highpower? What’s your favorite firearm to shoot, and why?
I really only shoot highpower. It’s also my favorite gun. I’m able to use it as almost an extension of my body and not just a firearm.
What is one of your best memories from competitive shooting?
One of my favorite memories from shooting was my fourth year in Ohio, the 1,000 CMP Cup Aggregate. I had shot my personal best at 600 two days in a row.
What is your practice routine? How often, and what do you do?
I mainly practice after matches to help fix what I did wrong in that match and then practice at home after.
How do you prepare for a match on match day (mentally and physically)?
I don’t necessarily have a physical routine, but I do have a couple mental things that I do that are kind of quirky actually. I tell myself that all you need to do is focus on the next shot, and whatever you just shot is in the past – focus on the next one. I just repeat that. And remember to breath.
What’s the best shooting advice you’ve ever received?
“Think center, shoot center” – Jim O’Connell
What are some other hobbies you have outside of shooting?
Some of my other hobbies include hiking, working and hanging out with friends.
What are your plans for the future (in and outside of shooting)? What are some goals you hope to achieve?
My ultimate goal in shooting is to leg out and get Distinguished. Once I achieve that, I’m not sure what’s next.
About the California Grizzlies:
The California Grizzlies Rifle Team has been a part of the Jamestown, California, community for over two decades – formalizing in 2003 and earning a 501(c)3 distinction in 2008. Consisting of juniors between the ages of 13 and 20 who come from all over the state of California, the team is open to National Rifle Association and CMP Highpower classified California youth who are interested in trying out. Many Grizzlies have advanced on after their junior marksmanship careers to the Citadel, Air Force Academy, Army Marksmanship Unit, U.S. Rifle Team, Navy and Annapolis.
Each summer, the California Grizzlies travel to Camp Perry, Ohio, to compete in the annual National Matches. Over the years, the Grizzlies have accrued countless junior wins in National Matches events, with National Record-setting members. One of their most notable accomplishments came in 2009, when the Grizzlies became the first junior team to win the century-old Rattle Battle, also snagging the honor of being the first civilian team to win the match since 1930. With the win, the team also set a new junior National Record score.
To learn more about the California Grizzlies, visit their website at https://www.teamgrizzlies.org/index.html.
Interested in getting involved in marksmanship in your area? Visit the CMP Competition Tracker page and search clubs: https://ct.thecmp.org/app/v1/index.php?do=clubSearch. You can also get in touch with your CMP State Director through the CMP website at https://thecmp.org/training-tech/state-director/.
– By Ashley Brugnone, CMP Staff Writer
CMP Club News: Mother Lode Highpower Posts Results From First California State Match for 2020
Submitted by Connie Taylor
There was a smaller than usual turnout at the Mother Lode Gun Club Highpower event held in Jamestown, California, with the virus going around. We were happy those who came seemed to enjoy a good time, decent weather and a good meal on Sunday, along with some overall great scores!
The match was held over two days, Saturday, July 4 and Sunday, July 5. A total of 18 competitors participated in the first day, while 24 arrived to compete on the second day.
For Saturday’s Match, Robert Taylor II was the overall match winner with a score of 794-33X. The Van Hovens, Vince, Koa and Loet, earned first, second and third place Master titles, respectively. Carl Tennis was also first Expert, with a score of 755-12X. Scott Nye was first in the Sharpshooter/Marksman/Unclassified group.
On Sunday, Loet Van Hoven returned to reach first in High Master, as Jim O’Connell earned the Grand Senior title. Junior competitor Amber Kingshill was the High Junior and High Woman, firing in the Master category. Juniors Logan Slater and Matthew Taras earned first in their classes, with Slater in Expert and Taras in Sharpshooter/Marksman/Unclassified.
Junior K. Hunter Blacksmith, who was the overall match winner on Sunday with a score of 789-24X, had the high aggregate for both days and took home the Dean Alley Memorial Trophy award and the California Bear Trophy. Congratulations, Hunter!
Special thanks to Wayne Fenner, who came up from Manhattan Beach to run the match, Todd Greenwood, who was up from the valley to help, and Dirk Stam for pitching in for two days. Thanks to Helen and Wanda for helping with registration and scoring, to Lynn, who was in charge of the meal and those who helped her, plus to those who brought desserts, Helen, Angela, Maria and Jimmy! It takes a village to put on this match and keep it running smoothly!
Hopefully, 2021 will be a more normal year so we can again do our barbecue! Stay safe, to all!
A Note from the CMP: At the CMP, we are not only dedicated to the spread of marksmanship within our own programs but are also devoted to supporting the efforts of those who are creating their own legacies in their own ways. Our Club News articles are our way of displaying the successes of our clubs, in the hopes of encouraging others to take the same respectable paths – both in marksmanship and in life. We are proud of our clubs for all of their endeavors and are honored to show them off within our news feed.
If you’d like to find your local club, visit the CMP Competition Tracker Page at https://ct.thecmp.org/app/v1/index.php?do=clubSearch to become involved.
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