This year will mark the 53rd anniversary of the start of one of the most popular and enduring skydiving performance awards—the Bob Buquor Memorial Star Crest Recipient (SCR) award. In October 1965 at the Arvin DZ in California, jumpers formed the first-ever 8-way freefall formation. Bill Newell was among the eight who exited two aircraft from 12,500 feet and formed a round (aka star) by 5,500 feet. Newell’s friend, freefall photographer Bob Buquor, who helped plan the dive, photographed the achievement. Soon, skydivers everywhere began trying to overcome the difficulty of heavy, cumbersome gear and little knowledge of freefall techniques to form their own 8-way stars. Sadly, Buquor drowned while filming a movie off of Malibu Beach in 1966. In memory of his friend, Newell created the SCR award in 1967 and issued SCR numbers and patches to skydivers who could document joining an 8-way or larger formation.
Almost from the start, USPA created performance awards to recognize jumper milestones. USPA created the Gold Wings award (now called the 1,000-Jump Wings) in 1962 to recognize those who attained 1,000 jumps, presenting Loy Brydon with the first set. In 1967, Maxine Nellen was the first woman to receive the wings. In 1971, USPA created the Gold Freefall Badge (now called the 12-Hour Freefall Badge) to recognize those who had spent 12 hours in freefall, awarding the first to Bill Ledbetter in June. In December of that same year, jeannie McCombs was the first woman to receive the badge. Subsequently, USPA added wings and badges for each additional 1,000-jump or 12-hour increment. As of today, jumpers have earned as high as the 45,000-Jump Wings and the 456-Hour Freefall Badge.
Over the years, USPA conceived additional awards to recognize skydiving milestones of all types. In 1977, USPA took on the canopy relative work (now called canopy formation skydiving) award program created by Tom Courbat, which recognizes those who participate in 4- and 8-way canopy stacks. In 1983, USPA created the Falcon, Double Falcon, Eagle and Double Eagle awards to commemorate 4-way and 8-way freefall formations. USPA expanded the program in 1991 to include the Silver Falcon (for a 36-way) and Golden Eagle (for a 64-way) awards. Also in 1991, USPA instituted the 3-D award for mixed formation 3-ways.
A diverse group of other organizations came along and issued awards, as well. The Freak Brothers, the Skydiving Resurrection Award and the Society for the Advancement of Naked Skydiving are just a few. Some continue, while others have expired. USPA’s wings, badges and CF stack awards continue today; the Falcon and Eagle awards and the 3-D award never caught on.
While many awards have come and gone, the SCR has become one of skydiving’s most recognized and enduring, persevering for 45 years now. Few skydivers will forget the time and place where they joined at least seven others in freefall and earned recognition as accomplished skydivers. The SCR program has also evolved and grown, now recognizing night, vertical and high-altitude 8-ways, as well as 4-ways incorporating mixed belly and vertical formations.
It appears that the SCR award will be around for a long time to come, thanks to Rachel Newell (Bill’s daughter) and her husband, John Machado. Rachel is living up to her commitment to her father, who passed away in 2012, to keep the SCR program up and running. For that, all skydivers can be thankful. Rachel is looking to enroll SCR ambassadors at each DZ to carry on the traditions of the SCR award. Those who wish to sign up may visit starcrestawards.com/ambassadorship for further information.