Hugh MacMullan's DVOA History

I first heard of DVOA and orienteering in 1974 or 1975, at a meeting of the Buck Ridge Ski Club. Bob McNair made a routine announcement about orienteering at the meeting, and it sounded interesting - in fact, it sounded much more interesting, practical and economical than skiing for my four young children and me. I think the first meet we attended was a Pakim Pond event; and the course options were white, a long yellow course and red. We decided on yellow and had a fine time, completing the course in hours, not minutes. My recollection, supported by photos with captions by each of the kids, is that we had a great day, spent a total of $2, and wanted to do it again.

In those days, there were a total of four or five meets in the spring and four or five meets in the fall - and we tried to get to most of them. Two or three times a year I would get to attend a meet by myself, and ran on red, usually finishing in second place behind Dave Jackson. Dave gave up orienteering for competitive canoe racing just about the time I was getting good enough to beat him. Maps were invariably black and white Xerox copies of USGS maps, with a few features drawn in by the coursesetter. Successful orienteering on those maps involved consideration of what the coursesetter probably meant by vague clues, how he likely placed the control via a road or trail, expenditure of great physical energy and lots of luck.

Places DVOA held meets included Pakim Pond, Valley Forge, French Creek, Ridley Creek, Blackbird State Forest and Tyler State Park. Caroline mailed out meet results a week or so after the meets; so meet fees and membership dues supported the copying of maps, postage and the cost of equipment, leaving little left over. We copied courses and clues at the start of most meets. So, orienteers' typically experienced the following at a DVOA event: registration (with careful printing of name and address, since you wanted to have your mailed results reach you), being handed a blank black and white map, waiting in line at a picnic table to be able to copy your course and clues (in my case while one or more kids either disappeared, had to go to a non-existent bathroom or had some accident), starting out on the course investing lots of effort in interpretation of coursesetters' additions and clues, having good luck, having bad luck, finishing the course and getting your results in the mail a week or so later.

The organizational aspects of DVOA were not readily apparent to me. At first it seemed as if Kent and Caroline essentially did everything and as I became a little involved with DVOA, it became obvious that Kent and Caroline DID do pretty much everything. I am sure of this: without their efforts there would not have been a DVOA. Perhaps the sport would have started up later; perhaps DVOA would exist in some alternative form - but not the DVOA that we know - not without the Ringos. For example, the first annual meeting I went to was at the McNairs' home in Swarthmore. In attendance were two McNairs (Bob was in the process of going legally blind and was unable to set courses), two Ringos, Steve Tarry (who was just graduated from Tufts and moving to New England) and me.

In 1976 or 1977, MacMullans began attending occasional Class A meets. Quantico held one a year, as did NEOC; and we once attended a Canadian 5-day event. Three of my kids began to have success at these events and were eventually each U.S. Champions at one time or another in their age classes. I never had much success, even though I felt I was as physically fit as anyone in my age class. The detailed colored maps were so remarkably different from DVOA's, my brain was unable to take in and use all the detail. I wished we at DVOA could have similar maps, but the hurdles of how we would fund them and who would make them seemed insurmountable.

By 1977, Dave Jackson had opted completely out of orienteering and I was elected president of DVOA - pretty much by the absence of any other viable candidates. I believed that the club needed to accomplish four things:

  • get on a sounder financial basis;
  • get better maps;
  • make orienteering more attractive and user-friendly by pre-marking maps, and;
  • start a newsletter

I never had any resistance, only cooperation, with attempting to achieve these goals. I also believed that there was one essential thing about DVOA that should never be changed - we should be a welcoming and comfortable place for all kinds of orienteers, from casual beginners to serious competitors. We stopped the policy of mailing out results, I funded two color maps and started a newsletter, and coursesetters began pre-marking maps.

Our first color maps were of Ridley Creek State Park and Tyler State Park. They were tiny and fairly inaccurate; but they were in COLOR, they were in a real orienteering scale (1:15,000) and they were CHEAP (we'd printed thousands of them). We also learned a lot in the making of them.

Hugh MacMullan