Retired chief petty officer awarded for bringing firearm training to Whidbey Island gun enthusiasts

Michelle Beahm photo
Chief Petty Officer John Hellmann, who won Sportsman of the Year for the second time, demonstrates the proper way to handle a handgun.

For the second time, retired Navy Chief Petty Officer John Hellmann was given the Sportsman of the Year award for “doing what I like to do.”

Issued by the North Whidbey Sportsmen Association, Hellman was awarded for helping educate people on gun safety and how to use firearms.

Dating back to the 1980s, Hellman started teaching people to shoot while stationed with the Navy in Maryland. The base held a shooting competition, and when he wasn’t there when teams were formed, he formed his own.

After finding seven other people with little or no experience shooting, he taught them how to shoot and they went on to win the competition.

“We won the base championship and really enjoyed it,” Hellmann said. “That was my first instance of teaching shooting, so I really enjoyed teaching shooting.

“After that, any chance I got to teach, I did.”

After retiring from the Navy in 1993, Hellmann got his teaching certificate and began teaching electronics and computer repair in Oak Harbor High School’s Career and Technical Education program, He also worked part time at his computer-repair business the Computer Clinic.

During that time, he joined the North Whidbey Sportsmen Association because, he enjoys shooting as a hobby and wanted somewhere safe and reliable to shoot.

“I was kind of the driving push in getting all this training started,” Hellmann said.

A few years ago, Hellmann said the club had National Rifle Association trainers out to set up an education curriculum and certify teachers

“We waited here at North Whidbey until we could get he NRA to do it so we had a nationally recognized curriculum,” Hellmann said. “We wanted to make sure that what were teaching was tried and tested.”

Now they have one class a month, covering topics like home firearms safety, basic rifle shooting, basic pistol shooting and, starting in a couple months, how to avoid situations in which someone may become a victim to gun violence.

It was because of his efforts to keep those classes going, to get people in the seats, sending out notices to local media and other public relations efforts that Hellmann was nominated for the Sportsman of the Year award, he said.

“This is the second time I’ve won this,” Hellmann said. “It’s not unusual for people to win more than once because those people who volunteer and do those kinds of things tend to keep doing them.

“We don’t do them for the prize. I was surprised I was nominated.”

Once a year, the club asks members who they think should be the recipient, but there’s no defined criteria for it, according to Hellmann. The club members consider such things as who has done the most for the club, who has supported or promoted the sports, who is heavily involved in one discipline or another, and who volunteers a great deal.

“Organizations really need to capture the heart of their volunteers, and the training program really did that for me with North Whidbey (Sportsmen Association),” Hellmann said.

“(The award is) a pat on the back. … The recognition that other people see that you’re doing a good job, that’s rewarding.”