Some Marlborough names have become synonymous with their chosen sport.
One such person is Val Wadsworth, who recently chalked up a half century of service to the Marlborough RSA Smallbore Rifle Club as a shooter, coach and administrator.
Over those 50 years he has represented Marlborough, the South Island and New Zealand numerous times, while coaching many young shooters to national and international level success.
Although he joined the RSA club in 1970, his connection with smallbore began two years earlier when, as a primary school pupil at Wairau Valley School, he first lined up a target in competition.
His reasons for taking up such an exacting sport are simple.
“Well, it was a small country town and there’s not much to do is there?
“Too young for bowls, couldn’t go to the pub to play darts and I wasn’t big enough to play rugby – so what else is there?
“There was a good, strong club at Wairau Valley … some really good shooters came out of there, the likes of Don McClellan, Laurie Moore, John and Ken Anderson being the senior members in those days.
“Then, in 1970, I effectively got poached by a friend of Dad’s [Wilf Collett] who shot at RSA … I still feel a bit guilty about that.”
As he rose through the ranks at RSA, Val was quickly bitten by the shooting bug, although he admits it’s not a pursuit for everyone.
“[The sport] just appealed to me … it’s hard to know what attracts you to it. We get people down [at the RSA range] who give it a go but it doesn’t spin their wheels. It’s a mental sport and you have got to want to do it if you hope to make it to higher levels.”
Val says that chasing provincial and national honours “just wasn’t on the radar” in his formative years.
Simply getting a higher grading for the next year was the goal.
“I remember looking at the Master graders when I was in B or C grade and thinking, wow, those guys can shoot.”
It wasn’t long however before he began to rise through the grades and then began to shoot outside the province.
“RSA was probably a little more social than the Blenheim club, and that was where the likes of Leon and Noeline Griebel, Doris and Geoff Holdaway were shooting … they were travelling away and they took me along as well on some of the competition shoots. Then you get a taste for competition and just keep building.”
His first national representation came in 1989, when he made the NZ Open team after the champs in Masterton. It was a moment he has never forgotten and still stands out as a career highlight, despite wearing the silver fern on many subsequent occasions.
Always keen to give back to the sport, Val has coached up-and-coming shooters for the past 25 years.
Alongside Glenn Harris and Sue Cresswell, Val has mentored the Marlborough Girls’ College team and gets a great thrill out of seeing the young ones coming through and doing well.
Val says there has never been a shortage of students keen to try their hand.
“Because it’s something different … and you can come and try it without having to sign up or buy specialised gear … you can just come along as a casual and try it, we provide all the gear.
“But it has a high attrition rate because, as I said, it doesn’t appeal to everybody.”
Three youngsters who it does appeal to though are the current MGC senior team, comprising 18-year-olds Issy Adams and Sophia Wills, plus Sara Wiblin (17).
On Sunday, the trio competed in the National Secondary Schools Smallbore Championships at the RSA range. The event was meant to be staged in Marlborough but, because of COVID, had to be shot live at different venues.
Val was thrilled with their efforts, especially that of Issy who shot her way into the South Island and national teams.
“She actually top scored the school match with a record score of 298.21, and then was subsequently selected in both the South Island and New Zealand teams … a top effort,” he said with obvious pride.
He admits his sport is facing future challenges.
“The firearms legislation and a lesser acceptance of firearms by a greater proportion of the community have had an impact … this is not a bad sport though, it is a full Olympic sport but we get lumped in with the people who do silly things with firearms.”
On the positive side, Val says the sport offers many benefits when it comes to the development of skills and character.
“There is a lot of concentration, mental application and discipline required.”
As to his own future in the sport, Val is, as usual, understated when he suggests, “I’ve got a couple of years left in me yet”.
Given he is currently the RSA club secretary, Marlborough association secretary and life member, plus South Island Target Shooting Association president, there will be plenty of folk hoping he is involved for even longer than that.