Most high school sports are games that showcase athleticism, which in turn draw large crowds of supporters. Rifle is quite the opposite.
“This isn’t much a spectator sport,” said Sergeant First Class Wade Mendenhall, coach of SSHS rifle.
While rifle may not appeal to most sports enthusiasts, it does highlight athletic abilities. Instead of speed and agility though, rifle requires a much more composed competitor.
“Rifle takes someone that is dedicated and who has a lot of patience,” Mendenhall said. “If they don’t have a lot of patience, then they won’t cut it. It’s a large transition from other sports because it’s not fast-paced enough.”
Reed coach Senior Chief Petty Officer Darwin Sharpe shared the same sentiments of what it takes to succeed in rifle.
“There’s more to shooting than pulling the trigger,” Sharpe said. “There are a lot of things that build up to that perfect shot and you have to be thinking about it all at the same time. It takes focus and concentration. I scare kids off all the time because I tell them up front ‘This isn’t soccer, it’s not football, it’s not basketball.’ The whole idea when you come in here is to relax. You have to learn to come in here and almost stop your heart. It takes calmness and focus. It’s meticulous and methodical. It’s a thinking man’s sport.
“You have to be able to focus or else you’re not going to be a good shooter. Everything has to be out of your head. Ninety percent of shooting is thinking. I think that’s why I find that some of my better shooters have better grades and are more into their academics.”
Once a student-athlete shows they have what it takes for rifle, they get a shot to prove their worth on the range.
Team matches consist of six shooters representing each team, with the match divided into two relays. In each relay (or order), three shooters from each side participate in three different scoring positions: prone, standing and kneeling.
A 10-minute sighting period is given prior to the prone position in which shooters lay down on their stomachs, followed by a 10-minute scoring period at which time shooters score based on their shot on 10 separate targets, with a maximum of 10 points per target. A five-minute changeover period bridges the gap to the second position, in which shooters stand. After five minutes of sighting, shooters have 15 minutes to fire at their targets. Another five minutes marks the changeover to the final position, in which shooters take a kneeling stance. Following five minutes of sighting, the shooters take aim at their targets during a 10-minute scoring period. Afterward, the shooters retrieve their targets and then hand them over to the opposing team to be scored.
The painstaking process is just testimony to the attentiveness rifle takes. It also reflects the importance that is placed on the safety surrounding the sport.
“Safety is not an option,” Sharpe said. “I don’t keep them on my team unless I can trust them. Today, there are a lot of rules but there’s a lot of gray area. In here, there’s no ifs, ands or buts. There are rules and there are consequences, and they know exactly what they are. I don’t have many rules broken. And they’re learning that that is real life.”
By the end of it all, Sharpe said you can see the molding and changing of the athletes taking place, and Mendenhall agreed.
“Watching the kids develop is what makes it worthwhile,” he said. “You can see them progress from when you first work with them and they’re not shooting very well to the end when they are shooting well. A lot of it goes back to academics too. It helps them focus better in the classroom. They work harder on their grades. That’s why I do it.”