At its summer 2012 meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the USPA Board voted to adopt a new competitor award for extraordinary sportsmanship in memory of Ted Strong, D-16, following his death the previous year. Strong—founder of Strong Enterprises—was a pioneering skydiver and gear manufacturer who competed in style and accuracy in the 1980s and was best known for developing the tandem method of student training.
The board directed that the Ted Strong Award for Extraordinary Sportsmanship be awarded at the USPA National Skydiving Championships “from time to time” when the actions of an individual or team warranted it. Unanimous agreement of the meet director, chief judge and controller or unanimous agreement of the USPA Competition Committee is required to bestow the award. Since its introduction, USPA has presented the award four times.
In 2012, the award went to Jarrett Martin, the first competitor with paraplegia to compete in accuracy landing. That year, Martin flew a picture-perfect pattern during round 10 and achieved an 8 cm score.
Eight-way formation skydiving team Spaceland Lite received the award in 2014. Early in the season prior to Nationals, one team member learned she had cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy and surgery. She told her team to replace her, but they told her they wouldn’t compete without her. The team stayed intact and finished in fourth place in the advanced class.
Four years later, in 2018, USPA presented the award to John Berke, leader of the 16-way formation skydiving team Deguello 17. Deguello was celebrating its 30th anniversary, first as a 20-way team, then as a 16-way team (when USPA and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale changed their events). During that time, Berke led more than 200 members of Deguello at Nationals, and the team had medaled in every year but two.
This year, the USPA Competition Committee chose to honor the 2022 U.S. canopy formation competition community’s leadership with the award. This community has worked hard to mentor newer canopy formation skydivers and increase participation at Nationals. Kyle Taylor led competition-oriented training days at the Spring Fling canopy formation events in 2022 and 2023 (including holding 4-way sequential competitions), and event organizer Brian Pangburn supported him in this endeavor. Taylor and other experienced CF jumpers such as Brandon Burns, Andrew Draminski, Travis Johnson, Sean Jones and Joe Thompson committed themselves to perform more coaching, run training camps and act as player-coaches for 4-way sequential and pro-am teams at Nationals. The Raw Dawgs CF group—including Linda and Eric Gallan, Chad Neidigh, Sergio Obando, Brian and Yulia Pangburn, Nelson Pereira, Magaly Sandoval, Brian Stempin and Thompson—also held numerous events and focused on introducing newer jumpers to the art of canopy formation skydiving.
All of this effort led to a huge increase in CF competitors in 2022, when an astounding 33 teams competed in CF at Nationals. In the past five years of CF competition—including this year’s 28 teams—the discipline has seen 123 CF teams compete for an average of 24.6 teams per year. Compare that to the previous five years of competition, in which 78 total teams competed, with an average annual attendance of 15.6 teams. With more than a 33% increase in participation, it’s clear that the canopy formation competition community’s mentorship, advocacy and generosity with their time has truly paid dividends!
The 2022 Canopy Formation Competition Community’s Leadership. Photo by Anthony Armendariz.
At the close of the canopy formation awards ceremony at this year’s Nationals, Director of Competition Amanda Smalley presented the CF competition community’s leaders with their award. A perpetual plaque inscribed “2022 Canopy Formation Competition Leadership” under the previous recipients’ names will reside permanently at USPA Headquarters. The recipients unanimously agreed that Kyle Taylor should take the presentation plaque home to hang at Skydive Elsinore in California, where maybe it will inspire even more new jumpers to try the discipline.