Some good news for our readers.
Published in the Tribune Live.
What, what, there are still school rifle teams?
Landon Badac first picked up a gun at around 4 years old.
“My grandpa, who was a big influence in my life in the outdoors, taught me how to shoot very early, gun safety, and how to live in the outdoors, pretty much,” the Armstrong High School senior explained. “He’s a very avid hunter, and I’ve been hunting with him ever since then.”
Badac picked up his grandfather’s habits, becoming a frequent hunter and fisherman himself.
And when he heard his high school was starting a rifle program, he said he “signed up as soon as the first meeting.”
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Rifle is one of five sports the WPIAL oversees during the winter season, with championships dating to 1942.
The annual WPIAL team championships will take place Tuesday, with the individual championships Thursday.
And even in a time of uncertainty regarding guns and schools, the sport has seen growth in recent years in Western Pennsylvania.
Maybe because marksmanship is fun and cool?
A lot of the kids that are joining the program are kids that are hunters, or their parents take them to the ranges, so they’re a little bit familiar with guns and everything,” Penn-Trafford coach Diana Long said. “That has a lot to do with it. A lot of them just hear about the overall program. A lot of the kids who I had for the first four years talked the program up and tried to get a lot of their friends interested.”
More kids involved in coached target shooting is a good thing.
The Armstrong School Board approved its program by unanimous vote in June.
“Basically, it should have been done 40 years ago was the general consensus,” Armstrong coach Chris Robbins said.
Robbins, a corporal for the state police in Kittanning, said the community support was “out of this world.” He secured a grant from the Armstrong County Friends of the NRA organization to buy five .22-caliber rifles, and donations from local people and businesses provided enough money for seven more.
Support your local Friends of the NRA and get them to support more local school shooting teams.
“In today’s political climate, the mere mention of high school and shooting and all of that in the same sentence kind of throws people for a spin,” Robbins said. “Once we explain to everybody what we’re doing — we’re not teaching them combat shooting, we’re not teaching them stock and sniper training.
“We’re teaching them mental discipline and physical concentration, and it just so happens they’re shooting a .22. These aren’t granddad’s squirrel rifles.”
The WPIAL requires all of its rifle programs to follow all safety measures at their ranges. Coaches need certification, and Robbins said members of the team are taught full etiquette before even touching a gun.
“It’s the safest sport there is,” Robbins said. “My son is on the team, my youngest son. He got a concussion in football. He’s not getting a concussion shooting rifle. The worst that can happen is he trips and falls in the parking lot.”
Everything about that is spot on.
That doesn’t mean that everything is hunky-dory. The school administration still has to exercise their anti-gun prejudice.
That doesn’t mean there’s not push-back. Penn-Trafford keeps rifle as a club program, so Long is an unpaid coach and the students provide their own transportation to practices and competitions.
The school also does not have a team photo on its website because, Long said, three of her competitors are holding rifles.
“We are a rifle team,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how else we would display that. At times it’s a little upsetting and discouraging because out of all the sports in the school, I have no injury report for five years straight.”
Al in all this is good, but it could be better.
It seems at though a lot of the kids at the center of this were shooters prior to being part of the rifle team. That’s great. But I also see this as a fantastic opportunity for kids whose parents or grandparents are not hunters or target shooters to get behind a rifle for the first time under safe and controlled circumstances.
That should be the core outreach of this program, in my opinion. That was one the things, looking back, about Scout Camp. The number of kids who signed up for the riflery merit badge always maxed out the number of available slots. A lot of the kids were from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, where they came from non-shooting parents. It was their first, and presumably only, experience with a gun.
So many people think kids + guns = bad, but school shooting programs have the ability, at least with the open minded, to change that.
I would love so see more shooting teams in suburban school districts, bring more access to safe, competitive shooting to kids less likely to experience that through other venues.
It’s not kids with guns that cause problems. It’s kids with emotional issues that cause problems.