With over 37 years of orienteering in Georgia, GAOC has evolved from one man's vision and extraordinary hard work in building a foundation of orienteering in Georgia, to a club committed to growing orienteering through education, public events, and variations of the sport including trail-o, bike-o, radio-o, canoe-o, extreme-o, and more.
Orienteering Club owes its humble beginnings to Bill Cheatum, who formed
the Oconee Orienteering Club in 1975.
On March 18-19, 1978, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
organized an orienteering event at Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park
(FDR). The map used was a
USGS quad, which was cut and pasted to make it a manageable size, and
then overprinted with magnetic north lines and the courses in red. DNR's
intentions were good, but they were a little optimistic about the
response. They printed 4000 maps!
On March 24-25, 1979, DNR hosted a second meet at FDR State Park,
using the same maps and courses from its 1979 meet. Cheatum was at
this meet recruiting for the Oconee
Orienteering Club. So was Steve and Robin Shannonhouse.
and I were excited to have a local club," Robin recalls. "We'd
joined USOF (United States Orienteering Federation) in 1978 and had
gotten excited by the 1978 DNR meet. But the nearest event we could find
to attend was in Nantahalla, North Carolina. We met a guy there
who gave us a copy of the USOF membership form and we joined USOF and
began pouring over the "Control Point," USOF's newsletter, to
learn as much as possible about orienteering."
In 1980, Cheatum produced a black and white map of
FDR, using the USGS map as a
base, converting the scale to 1:15000, and adding point features. In the words of Robin Shannonhouse, "We had a mass field check with
about 8 club members on Feb. 9th  and Bill Cheatum put our efforts
together for the final map. It was, in retrospect, a lousy map,
but probably the real beginnings of the club as a team
effort." The date on the map is 1980, and the copyright is
assigned to the Oconee Orienteering Club.
By 1980, about
2/3 of the Oconee Orienteering Club were from the greater Atlanta area,
so Cheatum renamed the club the Georgia Orienteering Club (GAOC) and
chartered with USOF.
In Oct 1980, GAOC
had its first presence as a USOF club at the 1980 US Champs at
Cuiver River St Park in Missouri, hosted by SLOC. Robin recalls the
Eight of us drove up in our red van and I remember making flash
cards of the clue sheet symbols since we'd never used them
before. I held up the flash cards in the front seat and everyone
in back would try to guess what they meant. Also none of us had
ever orienteering on a 5-color IOF-standard map before, so we went to
that A-meet with much anxiety and awe.
We met the members of the Vulcan O's (at that time called the
Vulcan Trailblazers, I think) at the SLOC practice area on Friday
afternoon. We had no idea there was a club in Birmingham, but made
fast friends and quickly afterward began coordinating our event
We were also amazed to see the number of people there, around 500.
I doubt any of us even thought there were that many orienteers in the
whole US! And we were totally bowled over seeing our first O-suits and
meeting folks from overseas (and we couldn't believe how FAST they
were!). We must have looked comical, staring with our jaws dropping at
Bob DeFer, a SLOC member and the USOF Executive Director at the
time, did a big welcome for us, the newest USOF club attending our
Doug Fortenberry (later GAOC president) was the only one to win an
award, he took 2nd place in M21C on Orange (the current equivalent
would be M Orange) and we partied all the way home in
At the time of the 1980 US Champs, SLOC was a very big and
successful club and we took frantic notes of how they did each thing,
hoping to emulate them as much as possible. They were a good example
and some of our current practices were learned from the SLOC model. We
went home and made codes for our controls, clue sheets, and began
talking about making 5-color maps (we finally got one in 1985 for our
first A-meet). That 1980 US Champs was also the first time the Green
course was ever used and one of our GAOC members, Jim Merry, ran it.
In the early 80s, Cheatum was the only mapmaker, and the only one who
could design courses, so he pretty much ran the club himself for the
first few years. He held several mapping and course setting
clinics and basically worked up the club from no where.
At first, GAOC meets only had White and Orange courses. Cheatum
added Red courses in the early 1980's with much fanfare, a special
edition of the GAOC newsletter announced the new course would be an
afternoon event after the normal White/Orange event in the morning.
Everyone stayed, of course! Robin thinks the total membership of
GAOC at the time was about 12 people, but the Vulcans and the Ft Benning
O-Club (including Chuck Ferguson), used to come to our events, so we'd
have a big turnout of about 20-30 people and a fierce competition on
that Red course.
Doug Fortenberry took over as President in 1982. He had been
president of the Atlanta Canoe club and knew something about publicity,
so he and Cheatum designed a brochure designed to get the word out
about GAOC. Fortenberry also publicized the club with several local
running hotlines, the neighborhood newspapers, and the AJC
newspaper. Within a couple of years, the club had grown from 22
members to 60 members.
1985 - First A-Meet
GAOC hosted its first A-meet in 1985 at FDR -- about 85 people came.
Steve Shannonhouse was meet director.
GAOC hosted its second A-Meet in 1986 on the same FDR map, but with
different courses. Fred Zendt was meet director.
GAOC's 3rd A-meet was a joint effort with VOC (Vulcan
Orienteering Club) at Oak Mtn in Alabama. Robin Shannonhouse was meet
director. She recalls the event...
VOC did the courses, and GAOC did the Start/Finish/Results.
This was our first A-Meet with computer results. Cheatum wrote a
program using an Apple IIE computer. An IOF rep who was doing an
evaluation of orienteering in the US was at this meet and said it was
the best US meet he had attended. Of course, with 2 clubs hosting,
there were many volunteers including one VOC member who was a ham
radio operator and provided radio communications.
At that time, most (but not all) A-meets were pen/ink operations,
so our "instant" computer results and radios impressed the
daylights out of USOF/IOF folks in attendance -- we were very high
tech! They radioed the finish times to Results and Bill had
times posted before the competitors could cross the street from the
Finish line to the Results strings. Oooo!
GAOC hosted its 4th A-Meet at Mistletoe State Park GA with Bill Cheatum as
the meet director.
GAOC hosted is 5th A-Meet at Sweetwater Creek State Park with Mark
and Peggy Early as co-meet directors.
GAOC hosted its 6th A-Meet at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge with
Linda & Chuck Fergusonas the meet directors. Also included
CIOR training event.
GAOC hosted its 7th A-Meet at Richard B Russell State Park with Robin
Shannonhouse as the meet director. Also included CIOR
GAOC hoste its 8th A-Meet at FDR State Park with Bill Farrell as the
GAOC hosted its 9th A-Meet at Sweetwater Creek State Park with Laurie
Searle as the meet director. Meet also included National JROTC Champs
GAOC hosted its 10th A-Meet at Mistletoe State Park with Bill Cheatum
as the meet director. Meet also included Trail-O and Extreme-O.
GAOC hosted its 11th A-Meet at Red Top Mountain and Pickets Mill with
Frank Campbell as the meet director. Meet also included U.S.
Interscholastic Championships, Trail-O and Extreme-O.
GAOC hosted its 12th A-Meet at FD Roosevelt State Park with Martha
Carr as the meet director. Meet also included Trail-O and Extreme-O.
GAOC hosted its 13th A-Meet at Richard B. Russell State Park
near Elberton, GA with Martha Carr as the meet director. Meet will also
include Trail-O and Extreme-O. GAOC also hosted the U.S.
Radio-Orienteering Champs at FDR State Park in April, and the
Junior Training Camp at FDR State Park in September.
GAOC hosted the Sprint, Medium, and Long Distance U.S. Individual Orienteering Championships and the U.S. National Trail Orienteering Championships on a newly developed map at Chattahoochee Bend State Park and the University of West Georgia. Laurie Searle served as meet director.