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NROI Range Instructor Biography for Kevin Imel

Kevin Imel

PO Box 217
Palouse WA 99161-0217
[email protected]


Kevin Imel – Running with the Big Dogs

Kevin Imel joined the NROI Instructor Corps in 2011 and has hit the ground running. Besides being an all-around great guy, he’s been a wonderful addition to our little teaching family. I had a chance to catch up with Kevin shortly before SHOT and am happy to share our conversation with the membership so that you may all get to know him a bit better.

KW- Let's get the personal stuff out of the way first. Are you married? Do you have any children?

Kevin --Yes, for ~15 years. Missy and I have no kids other than the four legged and furry kind.  Two dogs, two cats.

KW – If I’ve done my Facebook stalking properly, I see you also do some agility training with dogs. Tell us about that.

Kevin -- Good stalking!  Dog agility is my “other sport” with my two Shetland Sheepdogs, Elle and Emma.  Dog agility has some commonality with USPSA shooting in that you are given a “course” that you need to figure out how best to execute during the walk-through and then actually follow your plan when you are under the clock.  Agility games mostly use a defined sequence type course but how you handle the dog through that sequence is the puzzle to figure out.  And different dogs will often require different plans.  My two dogs are half-sisters and have both been trained with me under the same instructor but they handle very differently.  Of course having a team mate that doesn’t know the plan and may have other ideas at times makes it “interesting”.  Last year was Elle and my first year in competition after spending almost two years in training and we had a blast.  Emma will start competition this year.  Agility people are a lot like shooters in that they are some of the finest folks on the planet and exceedingly passionate about their sport.  An interesting difference between USPSA and agility is that USPSA is pretty much a male majority sport whereas agility is more a female majority sport in terms of numbers of competitors.

KW- Sounds like fun and one can never have too many hobbies. What do you do for a "real job"?

Kevin -- I am an “IT Manager” at Washington State University but I’m really a “working manager”.  Among other things I manage our Technical Services Team which supports about 20% of the university staff including all our Campus Housing operations, Dining Centers, Student Health, Student Union Building, Childcare Center and on and on.  I wear a lot of hats doing project management, some network design, writing bid specifications, wrangling vendors and lots of other stuff that falls under “other duties as assigned”.  I’ve been at WSU for coming up on 19 years.

KW- Sounds an awful lot like what you are called on to do for USPSA. No wonder you’re such a natural fit. How did you first get started as a shooter and then with USPSA?

Kevin -- My dad got me started shooting around age 5 when he taped some balloons to the wall in our basement, loaded some wax bullets (primed case, no powder, wax plug) in his model 1917 .45 and had me shoot at the balloons.  What he really was after was “could I aim and pull the trigger”.  The answer was yes and I was immediately hooked.  I had family in the firearms business for a while so I have been able to play with all manner of interesting things including a lot of NFA stuff but my first love has always been handguns.

My intro to competitive shooting happened in junior high with NRA small bore rifle.  I did okay but lack of finances kept me from pursuing that very far.  I dabbled a bit with handgun silhouette for a short time but then decided to go back and finish college so that put an end to that.

About 10 years ago I joined a local range needing a place to shoot because all the informal shooting pits were closing due to the usual shooting pit becomes trash pit phenomenon.  The NRA led me to the Lewiston Pistol Club (Lewiston ID).  On their website I discovered that they held IPSC matches which I knew just enough about to be intrigued.  I bought a rule book (they were not downloadable then), joined USPSA and went to my first match.  Front Sight columnist Guy Neil was running our matches then and was an early mentor who made sure I was enjoying myself, answered a lot of questions and taught me a lot about the sport.  The rest, as they say, is history.

KW- What made you decide to get into officiating?

Kevin -- I have always been a “rules” type of person in that I like to know the rules before I jump in and do something; it avoids a lot of trouble and helps you understand the activity better.  At the time I joined our club we had only one current certified RO and we needed more.  A class came up in Emmett Idaho so another member and I drove down and did our Level 1 with Jay Worden.  It was an eye opening experience, to say the least.

KW- My first class was with Jay too. He’s great! Can you give me a breakdown of your certification (RO/CRO/RM) dates if you can remember them and who taught your classes?

Kevin -- Who taught the courses is real easy…they were all Jay Worden.  Somehow we endured each other through all the “fun”.  I guess he is a glutton for punishment because he kept taking me as a student, or someone at HQ was mad at him.  All kidding aside, I learned an enormous amount studying under Jay and he deserves a lot of credit for all he does for the sport.

RO was back around 2003, CRO was 2004 or 2005 and RM was 2007 with my final exam being done at the Open/L10 Nationals in Missoula Montana.

KW- What made you decide to go one step further and become an instructor for NROI?

Kevin -- Well I got this phone call from John Amidon one morning…  Actually, I had already given this a lot of thought so once the wife assured me I was crazy if I turned this opportunity down I accepted John’s offer.  It worked out well timing wise because I was able to join Troy in Marysville Washington the following week for a Level 1 and see the fabulous new USPSA HQ at the same time.

I love teaching.  I’ve taught at the community education level on up through upper division courses at a university.  Sharing knowledge and helping people understand what are sometimes complex concepts is something that really excites me.  Plus, there is no better way to make sure you REALLY understand something than to teach it.

KW- You’ll be joining Carl Schmidt as the only other instructor on this side of the country. Do you hope to bring a fresh new perspective to the instructor corps?

Kevin -- Each of us has their own unique perspective shaped by their life experiences and there certainly are differences in perspectives between the various areas of the country even about something as finite as USPSA/NROI.  I am, for all intents and purposes, a native of the Pacific Northwest and we sometimes see things in a unique way; probably due to all the coffee.  Anyone that knows me very well knows that I’ll put in my 2 cents worth if given half a chance.

One of my passions is stage design and I hope to be helping grow that aspect of our educational offerings.  I’ve really enjoyed the discussions with the other RMIs so far and I’m looking forward to becoming more deeply involved in the NROI educational mission.

KW- Are you nervous at all about teaching on your own?

Yes and no.  I always get a bit nervous in front of a new group but that kind of drives the adrenaline a bit too. Once I get things underway I tend to just get into my groove, relax and enjoy the experience.

KW- What motivates you to volunteer and do so much for the sport?

Kevin -- This is largely driven by my desire to give something back to my community.  A lot of people are happy just being “consumers” of whatever is being offered but someone has to develop and distribute that product or pretty quickly there isn’t anything there when you need it.

USPSA/NROI has been really a great experience for me and a big part of my life; I wanted to take my love of teaching and use that to give back to the USPSA/NROI community.  Plus I get to travel the country and see some places I’ve never been and meet more great people.  I also volunteer a lot in my home town in that same spirit.  I’ve become more focused on the volunteer aspects of life during the last 25 years or so and have found volunteering to be highly rewarding.

KW- How many matches have you worked if you can recall?

Kevin -- I do this math every year at the Nationals RO dinner <grin>.  I believe it is twelve Nationals and I’ll probably add three more this year.  I’ve also worked several Area matches, some Level 2s and heaven knows how many locals.

KW- Do you have a favorite match that stands out?

Kevin -- Two of them, both at the same range, but for different reasons.  The 2005 Area 1 at Missoula because it was my first “Big Match” to shoot and work a bit of as every squad had to work a half day as match staff that year.  The stages were excellent and so far above what I was used to at the club level that it really piqued my interest in stage design.

The second is the 2007 Open/L10 Nationals at Missoula because that was where I passed my RM working with Roger Schmidt and John Christensen as my ROs.  The Missoula range is one of my top three favorite ranges in Area 1.  The facilities are great, the scenery spectacular and the people are just outstanding.

KW- You just recently completed the USPSA Handgun Nationals as an Assistant RM; what was that experience like?

Kevin -- Holy cow, what a learning experience!  I hadn’t really had a chance to see our Nationals from that perspective having always been an RO or CRO focused primarily on a single stage.  The ARM job was a fair bit of tedium mixed with some busy times with a bit of chaos just to keep it interesting.  Everything unusual always seemed to happen at the same time.  It really made me appreciate the job that Carl, Troy and John have done all these years when I’ve been working for them.  It really is a different mindset than the CRO or RO job.  But it was quite educational and a lot of fun.

KW- What did you take away from that match, as challenging as it was? Did you learn from it?

Kevin -- I definitely learned a lot from both Troy and Carl because I got to serve under each of them for part of the match.  They each have their own style of performing the job with the same consistent and fair end result.  One of the big things was just the different mindset when doing the RM job at that big of a match.  There are a lot of balls that need to stay up in the air and if you focus too intently on one, the others are going to fall yet every problem deserves your full and undivided attention.  It’s an interesting challenge and the Nationals RMs are grand master jugglers.

Watching squads flow, looking for bottlenecks in the stages and helping the CROs and ROs find ways past those bottlenecks was a fun mental challenge.  A lot of this sort of stuff I had seen having been the RM at smaller matches but when you scale it up to something the size of Nationals it takes on a whole different look and feel.  The level of creative problem solving required at Nationals is challenging and the dedicated folks that do it so well are amazing people.

KW- Would you do it again?

Kevin -- Absolutely!

KW- What would you do differently the second time around?

Kevin -- I think everyone involved in the experiment learned a lot.  We did a debrief shortly after Nationals and if we do it again in the future everyone will have a bit better job description to work from which should make it an even better experience.

KW- Let’s turn our attention to the more abstract, big picture for a minute. Do you think USPSA is headed in the right direction as far as membership, marketing, juniors, divisions, etc?

Yes.  The huge growth the shooting sports are seeing whether this is the “Obama Effect” or the “Top Shot Effect” or whatever it might be really is wonderful.   Many clubs are seeing unprecedented growth, I know my local club is, and that is great for so many reasons from helping grow the sport to helping maintain our 2nd Amendment rights.

I think the divisions are very solid and I don’t really see any need to expand or contract them.  There are some tweaks that are being made and I see that as more of an evolutionary process than a fault.  This sport is dynamic and as such some tweaks are going to be necessary just as part of our natural evolution.

KW- What about NROI? We struggle a great deal with recruitment and retention from time to time. What do you think we can do to improve that?

Kevin -- Recruitment and retention are always a struggle with any volunteer effort.  I have long felt that every shooter needs to take the Level 1 (RO) course early in their shooting careers because it will help improve their shooting simply due to their increased understanding of the rules.  And then, when new rulebooks come out, take it again as that is the best way to get up to date on the new rules.

Not everyone wants to run shooters, I think we all get that.  But a lot of folks never even try it to see if they like it.  My mom made me eat a “no thank you helping” of foods I thought I wouldn’t like when I was young.  I discovered some wonderful food that way.  So everyone should at least try it before they decide it isn’t for them.  I still don’t like Brussels sprouts though.

I think the biggest problem NROI faces today is the graying of our staff.  I am closer to the half-century mark than I want to admit and I am pretty sure I am the youngest RMI.  At Area and Nationals matches I look at the staff and I don’t see enough folks under 40. We really need to change that or we are going to be in big trouble in a few years.  The shooting sports are exploding in popularity putting more pressure on every match which in turn puts more pressure on the staff.  We need more bodies to help carry the load so we need to get those bodies in the pipeline now.

The Assistant RM thing at Nationals last Fall was a step in the right direction of training whomever comes next for the Nationals and other large matches.  We also saw some seasoned staff working as ROs under less seasoned staff as CROs to help mentor the less experienced folks.  This was a great move and I hope we see more of it.

KW- Since you’ve run the gamut of experience within the organization, what advice would you give new shooters?

Kevin -- Take the Level 1 (RO) course. <grin>  Spend a lot of time watching and talking with other shooters and learning what works and what does not.  You really don’t need that multi-kilobuck race gun to learn the fundamentals of our sport or even to be competitive.  Be sure to get involved with match production at your club.  I’ve never heard any club complain that they have too many volunteers.  Don’t limit yourself to local matches.  Don’t worry that you aren’t good enough to head to sectional, area or even Nationals matches.  As long as you are safe and understand the rules get out there and have fun!  With any luck you will be put on a squad with better shooters and, shooters being the way they are, you’ll probably get some free education as the match goes along resulting in your being a better shooter at your next match.

KW- What about new Range Officers or those considering it? What advice would you give them?

Kevin -- Don’t restrict yourself to running shooters just at the local club level.  Sign up to work at your sectional and area matches and then come work Nationals with us.  You will see and learn more by working a single National Championship than you will in a year of club matches.  Be sure and help run shooters any chance you get.  RO skills need constant use to avoid becoming rusty.

KW- What do you think is the most fundamentally important thing to teach students attending your seminars?

Kevin -- Always be impartial when running shooters.  Always make the correct call whether it is your best friend, your ex-spouse, a big name GM shooter, or someone shooting their very first match.  Take the time to use your overlays and/or consult the rulebook when necessary.  In the end you are doing no one any favors by not applying the rules fairly, consistently and equitably.  Give the shooter the score they earned, not the score they wished they had earned.  And if they earned a penalty, they get that too.

KW – Excellent advice! Okay, now just for fun: if you were a gun, what kind of gun would you be, and why?

Kevin -- A high quality 1911 single stack in .45 ACP.  Durable, dependable, gets the job done day in, day out and ready to go play on the weekends.

KW -- Thanks so much, Kevin, for taking the time to let us get to know you a bit better and extra thanks for volunteering so much of your time, effort and energy to benefit the organization.

If you’re lucky enough to run into Kevin out on the range or in a classroom, please give him a hearty pat on the back and thank him for all he has done and is doing to better our sport!

Thanks Kevin, we appreciate you!


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