UND has championship-winning flying teamSome win percentages among NCAA Division I athletic champions are impressive. The University of Ar-kansas has won 19 indoor track and field titles in the past 26 years for a win percentage of 73. UCLA has won 19 of 30 men’s volleyball titles, a winning percentage of 63.3.
By: By James R. Johnson, Grand Forks Herald , The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Some win percentages among NCAA Division I athletic champions are impressive.
The University of Ar-kansas has won 19 indoor track and field titles in the past 26 years for a win percentage of 73. UCLA has won 19 of 30 men’s volleyball titles, a winning percentage of 63.3.
The University of North Dakota is right up there with them. But not in hockey, football, basketball or swimming.
The university recently claimed its 15th National Intercollegiate Flying Association championship in 25 tries — a win percentage of 60.
“The NIFA championship is the equivalent to the NCAA Championships for athletics,” said Bruce Smith, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
Athletic teams have full seasons to prepare, said Ryan Perrin, co-captain of this year’s team. “We’ve got the regional competition and the national competition.”
“We don’t play a series of games,” said Ryan Guth-ridge, a co-captain and this year’s winner of the top pilot award.
“We have one shot at a landing, one shot at a test,” he said.
“It’s sudden death for us all year,” said Jim Higgins, the team’s lead coach.
UND scored a record 469 points at the May 18-22 competition in Cahokia, Ill., setting a record by three points. A total of 28 teams competed, with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Fla., taking second and Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Mich., finishing third.
Guthridge scored 107 points, 30 better than his closest individual competitor. He finished first in short-field landing accuracy and fourth in preflight inspection. But team goals outweigh individual honors, Guthridge and others said.
“The only thing better than hearing your name is hearing someone from your team getting first,” said Perrin, who also finished in the top 10. “You see that support year-round. The whole school’s got our backs, and everyone scores points. When you get that kind of effort, it’s hard to beat.”
Other team members are Kyle Schurb, William Gardner, Jamie Marshall, Brandon Anderson, David Edmonds, Adam Fisel, Aar-on Guffey, Erik Johnson, Louisa Miller, Andy Paluch, Cindy Pro, Joel Thomas and Greg Weseman.
Joining Higgins as coaches are Lewis Liang, Jered Lease, Mark Johnson and Gary Ebel.
Team members put in hundreds of hours in classrooms, simulators, hang-ars, on the tarmac and in the air to earn a spot.
“They’ll spend a year practicing before they make the team,” Higgins said. “Some have to go through a second full year and others into their third. It’s just that competitive.
“They’re exceptionally high-achieving, highly motivated students.”
The program’s tradition attracts students from Boston, New York, Seattle and Southern California. Higgins said there’s a true belief in what he calls the mission of the flying team.
“A lot of these students will go on to be great leaders in our industry,” Higgins said.
“Some will solve problems that don’t even exist yet because of the high mentality they have.”
UND won its first national flying title in 1985 under Kent Lovelace, now chairman of the aviation department at the aerospace school.
Lovelace is the only coach to win five NIFA titles in a row.
“The work ethic hasn’t changed over the years, and that’s the key to the team’s success,” Lovelace said.
“This year’s team represented UND in an exceptional manner. They’re good ambassadors for the program.”
Guthridge grew up in rural Aurelia, Iowa, 10 to 15 minutes away from the nearest airfield.
“A family friend got me into it when he took me up when I was 9 or 10,” Guthridge said.
“Everybody kind of gets the bug somehow,” said Perrin, a native of Brooklyn Park, Minn. “I lived a mile from an airport and would see planes flying over while playing in my back yard.”
Perrin said he was flying planes after being at UND for only three months. Four years later, he is a fully licensed pilot.
He hopes to move on to flying business jets and for the airlines, but like Guthridge, he plans to come back to UND to be a flight instructor and flying team coach.
“That’s another great thing about this program,” Perrin said. “You never know where you’re going, but opportunities always seem to show up.”