College tuition is a big challenge for most of us, but guns can help pay the freight. So can badminton, martial arts, bowling, barrel racing, and other rodeo and equestrian sports. Scholarship money for all of those college sports is available in a vast number of places, including the schools themselves. Visit collegescholarships.org for a flight of fancy and finance.
It was the guns that got my attention on a recent visit to the website. I generally detest guns. Other than sports, they are the most talked-about thing on television, their carnage documented daily on local and national newscasts, as well as central to the plots of the cops/law-and-order/CSI drama genre. Bullets and dead bodies, real or fictional, fill our screens night after night, and it doesn’t look like the gunfire will abate any time soon.
However, a fair number of NCAA schools, 33 to be exact, have intercollegiate rifle teams. MIT, Wentworth, and Massachusetts Maritime Academy are the only New England colleges with a gun in the game. Many of the schools dole out scholarships (the maximum allowed by the NCAA for the sport totals 3.6 per school) for these teams. It’s a pretty sure shot that the likes of The Citadel, Air Force Academy, Army, VMI, and the Naval Academy don’t have to concern themselves with rounding up enough shooters or fret much over the 3.6 scholarship thing.
Serious young shooters also can seek scholarship money from the National Rifle Association. Just one of its programs, in fact, has handed out a total of $640,000 in scholarships to 630 high schoolers since 1996. Those students aren’t necessarily headed to college rifle teams, but they like to shoot guns, which is the kind of Americana that the NRA pays great money to cultivate.
Jon Hammond, coach of the much-decorated West Virginia University rifle team, grew up in Scotland and began shooting as a 9-year-old at boarding school near Aberdeen. Now 31, he came to the US nearly 10 years ago when WVU offered him a spot in its masters program for sports management and on its rifle team. He came, he shot, he stuck around, and this is his sixth year coaching the program at WVU, which in March finished runner-up to Kentucky for the NCAA team championship. WVU leads the NCAA with 14 titles, followed by Alaska-Fairbanks (10).
According to Hammond, college shooters are typically a cerebral lot. His current coed squad of 10 includes eight shooters who are pursuing engineering degrees. Over the years, he said, his athletes in arms have come from various cultures, including city kids and some from small-town hunting communities. By and large, the students are bright, disciplined, goal-driven athletes who have the requisite endurance and patience to squeeze off 60 shots at a target, needing to remain on their spot for 1 3/4 hours.
“There are physical aspects to it, yes,’’ said Hammond, noting how some first-timers hand back their air rifles, weighing just under 13 pounds, in two or three minutes, saying they are too heavy. “But I’d say mostly it is a mental sport, one that demands great focus. And it’s a very technical sport, too, when you consider all the technology involved in the rifle. So it attracts that kind of brain to the sport.’’
A good shooter also needs a cool temperament.
“Not necessarily chilled out and mellow,’’ said Hammond, a member of Great Britain’s Olympic shooting team at the 2008 Games in Beijing and likely again at the 2012 Games in London, “but you have to control your emotions. You need the ability to be calm at the right time. It’s more studious. It’s definitely not the jock personality you might relate to some high school sports.’’
And good vision, of course, is essential. The firing range can’t have a bunch of bespectacled Private Vanderbilts from F-Troop doddering around, trying to eye those targets.
“Actually, overall, I’d say most have poor vision,’’ said Hammond, noting that the vast majority of the sport’s competitors wear glasses or contact lenses. “I know in my case, I am very, very short-sighted, and have been for years.’’
Typically, college-age shooters have competed for 5-10 years or more and own their own guns, the best of which are made in Europe. Cost of a new gun ranges from $3,000 to $5,000. The students arrive on campus already armed, their weapons toted in large suitcases, and they generally blend right into the student body.
“Really, you’d have a hard time picking them out,’’ said Shannon McNamara, the team’s media liaison at WVU’s sports information office. “They wear the same Nike gear that, say, the football players wear.
“So if you walked into a business class, and you had someone from the rifle team and the football team in there, you might not be able to tell them apart.
“And they’ve got a big, big backing here at the school, because of all the titles over the years. No other team on campus has that many titles. They get introduced at one of our football games each year and the ovation they get is ridiculous.’’
So guns have their upside, not only on various firing ranges on college campuses, but also in our many hunting fields and outdoors clubs. As much as one might fear them - and I ride at the head of the fear-and-loathing posse - it’s reasonable to think of guns as a conduit to higher education.
Why shouldn’t the expert college marksman, the NCAA individual champion such as WVU’s Nicco Campriani in 2011, derive just as much self-esteem and character building from his title as, say, the center for the NCAA champion basketball team, or the best college bowler, barrel racer, or badminton player in all the land?
Got tuition? If not, as scary as it might sound, you might want to get a gun.