View Full Version : WVU Shooters do more than Win!

03-23-2009, 08:56 AM
WVU Shooters Do More Than Win
Chris Lawrence

I'll never forget the day I learned West Virginia University would be dropping rifle as a sport. The word came in a press release from the WVU Athletic Department on a Friday afternoon. The release indicated the cuts were made to decrease operating costs and meet Title IX requirements. Five varsity sports got the axe.

Thinking back now, I can't even remember what the other four sports were--except perhaps tennis which had already had a series of problems. Their demise came as no shock. However, the dropping of the rifle team was a slap. I felt like I had been punched in the gut and wondered how the University could justify canceling a team that had brought so much prestige and honor to the school. Even if it was costing money, it was a worthwhile investment for the constant national titles. Plus, as a co-ed sport, rifle actually helps with Title IX.

Press releases bearing bad news typically come on a Friday afternoon. It's a standard public relations ploy for several reasons. It enters the news cycle at a time when not as many people are paying attention, those who made the decisions typically have a head start on getting out of town so as not to have to deal with the aftermath, and there's a hope often by those making the announcement that the matter will die down over the weekend and by Monday possibly be forgotten.

It may or may not have been the reasoning for WVU at the time, but it couldn't have worked better for me. The team's demise naturally became the main topic on the next morning's edition of West Virginia Outdoors. When I opened the phone lines, it was clear I wasn't alone. Callers lit up the board like few times before and were saddened, bewildered, or just downright angry. Reaction came from all corners of the world, the NRA, National Shooting Sports Foundation, and a host of former Mountaineer All-American Shooters were coming out to denounce the decision. Then Governor Bob Wise, a staunch ally of all shooting sports, was also outraged. It wasn't long until the legislature got involved and the move was afoot to restore the team.

Under heavy pressure from Charleston and from across the state, the university reluctantly reinstated the rifle team's status several months later. However, it was done with a parting shot--the rifle team would have to raise money on its on and be self-supported or funded in part by the legislature.

The ordeal makes last weekend's National Championship even more amazing. Coach Jon Hammond tells me because of all the turmoil in the last five years this year's title, the 14th in school history, feels like the very first one. From the time the NCAA recognized rifle as a sport to the time of the cut, WVU had won 13 titles and never finished worse than second in the nation. That's a record of success that is almost unmatched in any sport at any level.

The people of West Virginia made it clear they wanted WVU to have a rifle team. Nowhere else would a rifle team have received that kind of outpouring. It's now a key point for recruiting, since it's unlikely the university would ever try that again. WVU should be given credit for recognizing the mistake and correcting it.

None of this year's team members were around during those dark days, although a few were recruited by former rifle coach Marsha Beasley. The current team can look at the trophy case outside the range at the Shell Building and see what the program once was. Hammond believes the days of a dominant team in the sport are gone because the numbers of teams are increasing. This team should be given high marks for recognizing the program's history and making it their mission to restore that greatness.