Longest National Match Competitors: TOM WILLATS

In 2013, Willats won the Citizen’s Military Pistol Trophy as the highest scoring civilian in the National Trophy Individual event.

The annual National Matches has welcomed rifle and pistol competitors of all ages from around the country and the world since 1903. Moving to its current home at the Camp Perry National Guard Training Facility in Ohio in 1907, thousands of guests travel to the event each July and August to take part in the several competitive, educational and purchasing opportunities offered­ on the grounds. 

Attending the National Matches has become a tradition that has moved through the generations, with some returning year after year, without fail. The Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), the entity that has helped facilitate the National Matches since 1996, has compiled a list of recognition of those who have attended the event for 20, 30 or even 50 years. These individuals have spent decades of their lives devoted to marksmanship, celebrating its legacy each summer on the shores of Lake Erie, and we at the CMP thank them for their unwavering support.

Tom Willats, 57, Wake Forest, North Carolina – 25 years of National Matches

Distinguished Pistol Badge earned in 1997

How did you become involved with attending the National Matches? Why did you attend your first one?

I got involved in pistol shooting at an indoor .22 pistol league in Laurel, Maryland. They were very encouraging to beginning shooters and had a focus on helping everyone improve.  The more experienced guys in the league encouraged me to expand my skills and shoot NRA 2700 matches and NBPRP (the predecessor to the CMP) leg matches, which I eventually did. 

I got hooked on the shooting and on the camaraderie of the firing line and made my first trip to Camp Perry for the pistol phase in July 1995. I shot the NRA and NBPRP individual matches, and I shot the NRA and NBPRP team matches with the Maryland State Team that year.

What do you remember from that first match?

There are two strong memories I have about my first time at Camp Perry:

  1. It was raining cats and dogs during the National Trophy Team match that year. We shot during the rain, and water was collecting on my sights so quickly that I could hardly see the sights at all. It was an absurd situation that I treasure and laugh about with my old teammates even now, 25 years later.
  1. Back then, the scores from the matches were posted on base at the wailing wall, and the competitors would gather around to check scores and commiserate. When I checked my scores for the National Trophy Individual (the leg match), it looked like I hadn’t quite scored well enough to earn leg points. A month or so later, the official scores came out, the standings had been adjusted, and I was the last competitor to earn leg points in the match. I was ecstatic! Those were the first points I earned towards becoming a Distinguished Pistol Shot.
The first time Willats (right back) fired with the Maryland team was at his first National Matches in 1995.

What discipline or disciplines have you competed in at the National Matches over the years?

I’ve only competed in the pistol disciplines. I’ve shot Service Pistol, .22 Pistol and, more recently, a few of the Glock matches. I enjoy Service Pistol the most.

Out of all of your years competing at the National Matches, what has been your favorite experience?

I really have two answers to this question. My best experience in competition was shooting with the North Carolina State Team in 2019 when we won the Gold Cup Trophy (high overall team) and Oglethorpe Trophy (high state association team).  That was WONDERFUL, and the guys I shot with were outstanding competitors!

The thing I feel most strongly about, though, is the good times and experiences I’ve had with friends and acquaintances at Camp Perry. I’ve met hundreds of competitors and volunteers from all over the country, my wife and daughters have all been there, and I’ve been blessed to have hung out with a lot of really great people. The marksmanship is great fun, and the pressure to excel is superb motivation, but the people and friendships are what I really remember and appreciate.

In 2016, Willats (right) joined up with the Maryland Pistol Team at the National Matches.

Do you have any advice for new competitors to the National Matches?

If you can find someone who has been to Nationals before, talk with them and get their advice. You’ll need to figure out where to stay, where to eat, when to get to the firing line and which gun to shoot on which day. It’s all easy stuff, but it’s easier if you have a helping hand the first time.

If you’re able to, attend the Small Arms Firing School (SAFS) and shoot the M-9 match. The school is good, the M-9 match is fun AND you get to shoot someone else’s gun and ammunition!

Also, bring more money to spend at Commercial Row!

Is there anything else about your National Matches experience you’d like to mention?

I’ve had a lot of good times at Camp Perry and the National Matches. I encourage everyone to go and compete there. The people are good, and the competition is excellent. Everyone makes friends at Nationals, and it’s a great experience!

Interested in attending the CMP National Matches? We’d love to have you on the firing line at Camp Perry. View the 2021 National Match calendar and information on the CMP website at https://thecmp.org/competitions/matches/cmp-national-matches/.

In 2019, Willats was a member of the civilian team from North Carolina that took home the
Gold Cup Trophy and Oglethorpe Trophy.

It’s time to determine some bragging rights! We’d like to recognize those individuals who have attended the most National Matches at Camp Perry. Tell us – when was your first year? How many years have you attended? Do you know of anyone else who you think could qualify? Those who we find have earned the “Most/Longest Attended” title will be highlighted in an upcoming CMP article. Let us show you off! You’ve earned it – comment below or email abrugnone@thecmp.org. (And we love old photos too!)

— Ashley Brugnone, CMP Staff Writer

The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.