USA Shooting is recognizing three extraordinary coaches for their efforts in the development of athletic talent in the sport and their support of USA Shooting’s overall mission in preparing athletes to win Olympic and Paralympic medals. This year’s honorees include National Coach of the Year Jason Parker along with co-Development Coaches of the Year Erin Gestl and Chad Whittenburg.
This time four years ago, Sergeant 1st Class Jason Parker (Omaha, Nebraska) was preparing for the opportunity to compete in his fourth Olympic Games. Now, he’s busy preparing athletes to try and earn their own ticket. Thanks to his guidance, leadership and attention to detail in 2015 there’s several on the precipice of doing just that. Parker’s first priority, just as it has been for 19 years, is to protect the prestigious image of his unit and he’s done well tutoring Army Marksmanship Unit competitors Michael McPhail, George Norton, Dan Lowe, Erin McNeil and John Joss to great success in 2015. He’s also proven a pivotal asset in helping guide USA Shooting’s Rifle program as Assistant National Team coach, helping the team earn seven quotas overall.
Praise is abundant among those he coaches. After earning an Olympic quota during his win at the World Cup Final, the Prone Rifle shooter McPhail paid his coach the highest compliment. “He is, without a doubt, the very best coach I have ever had in any sport in any time of my life.” McPhail also had two World Cup wins in 2015.
Norton, gives his coach tremendous credit and says that his ability to earn a quota at the Pan Am Games with a silver medal was a team effort. “He won that quota just as much as I did,” Norton states. “A lot of people think he’s just the nicest guy, but you really have no idea. He’s that kind of coach that even with as much technical ability as he has, his ability to not let you go down that rabbit hole of losing yourself is just amazing. He has this positive way of keeping you on the track that you need to be on without overanalyzing or psyching you out. He really is the best coach I’ve ever had.”
USAMU rifle athletes earned five medals at the 2015 National Championships.
Along with competing in four Olympic Games, Parker earned 10 World Cup medals throughout his career, including eight victories. He also earned two World Championship and five Pan American Games medals.
One of the shooting stars of USA Shooting’s youth development pipeline is The Palmyra Sportsmen’s Association. Under the watchful eye of Dr. Erin Gestl, the association’s youth shooting program is one of the most successful programs in the country having produced several college champions and USA Shooting Team members including two-time Olympian and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jamie Corkish. Gestl helps organize a youth shooting program that currently has 30 juniors and another six juniors from other teams including a few adults and Paralympic athletes. He also helps raise money and awareness for statewide programs impacting youth participation in the shooting sports. In October 2014, the Palmyra was asked to continue to serve as a Potterfield partner in the future, and an endowment has been set up for the purpose of growing junior shooting sports in Pennsylvania.
“Erin is a great junior coach,” said Corkish. “Not only does he have a great knowledge of the sport, he is also a fun coach to be around and made the sport enjoyable. Erin is very deserving of this award and I am proud to be able to say he was part of my shooting career.”
Gestl is an assistant professor of biology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.
Chad Whittenburg (Spring Hill, Tennessee) got his start in the shotgun sports 10 years ago, following an eight-year military career as a Marine. Ever since, he’s been on the fast track to success while producing USA Shooting Team athletes such as 2015 Junior World Championships bronze medalist Ellie Roditis and this year’s Junior Cup Team gold medalist member Samantha Smith.
Whittenburg began his coaching career as the State Director of the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program (TNSCTP) where he helped form more than 100 youth teams and several collegiate teams. He’s has also overseen the USAS Certified Training Center (CTC) in Nashville since 2013. He has coached numerous state and national SCTP champions along with a long list of USA Shooting podium finishers.
Now the collegiate head coach at Martin Methodist, Whittenburg was also chosen by National Team Coach Todd Graves to coach the 2015 Junior World Cup Team that took home seven medals. A Level 3 coach, he also serves as a member of the NRA National Coach Development Staff (NCDS) where he has taught over 250 coaches their Level 1 course.
“Chad is a great coach and person,” said trap shooter Emma Williams, who finished fourth at Nationals in 2015. “He brings out the best in every athlete he works with and is able to push them to always do and be their best. I feel that I have become a better athlete and individual since we started working together three years ago. He has helped me develop a good, positive attitude that I try to utilize every day. He has always been able to pull me out of my slumps, has been there for me during my triumphs, and he has taught me through my mistakes. I am very thankful to have him as my coach and I am very excited that he has been chosen for this honor.”
“Chad is one of the hardest working people I know, and just about all of it is for the benefit of the people around him,” Smith added. “He has always pushed me to be better and provided endless support. I wouldn’t be the shooter I am today without him, and I know several others wouldn’t be either.”
“Chad introduced me to the sport of international bunker,” the Junior Olympic silver medalist Roditis acknowledged. “If I had not taken his beginner’s bunker clinic, I would not be where I am today. His outline of the mental game has helped me become more aware of what it takes to visualize targets and build myself up before a match. I am thankful for his assistance in developing me into the shooter that I am now.”
USA Shooting will recognize their Athletes of the Year on Wednesday followed by the distinguished athletes in Rifle, Pistol and Paralympic Shooting on Thursday.