MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With 19 national championships to their credit, including the last five consecutive NCAA titles, the West Virginia University rifle team hopes its fan base will be compelled to throw a few dollars their way.
The WVU athletics department has launched a campaign to raise $300,000 to buy all of the equipment for a mobile rifle range. The upgrade would enable the team to become far more visible to the legions of fans who swell with pride at their accomplishments.
“We’re finally looking at doing a big upgrade that I think is going to greatly enhance our match experience and spectator experience,” said WVU rifle Coach Jon Hammond. “Obviously a big part of that is to host the NCAA championships in 2019.”
The team shoots on a small range in the WVU Natatorium which has been the team’s home since the old rifle range was demolished under the seats of old Mountaineer Field. While the present range is fully functional as a practice facility, Hammond said it doesn’t lend itself well to drawing spectators.
“The conditions of it are fine, we’re a bit limited in space, but as a practice venue, there’s nothing we need to tear down or build here. We really thought this mobile facility was the best way to move forward,” Hammond said. “We really follow the same model of the wrestling and gymnastics teams who have their practice facility then they go over to the Coliseum for their competition.”
For the past two years, the team has staged one match each year with the air rifle competition in the Shell Building on WVU’s indoor track to attract an audience. Once in place, Hammond said the Shell Building, is the more likely location for competitions at least at first, but it will include both the air rifle and small bore relays. Eventually, Hammond would like to use the mobile range to give the team a venue anywhere in Mountaineer Nation.
“We’ll take things slow and probably have a year or so here, but certainly that would be the vision for the future,” said Hammond. “To be able to meet another team somewhere else throughout the state would be a great way to promote our sport in different areas.”
The last two national championships, held at Akron University and Ohio State, have been the blueprint for what Hammond and the WVU Athletic Department envision as the model they want to follow.
“The shell of the range, the backstop, the targets, those are what we’re looking to get,” he said.
Adding spectators to the matches will add interest and enthusiasm, but will also add to the potential distractions for shooters. Hammond agreed, but added it’s the price paid for progress.
“Our home matches here, we’re definitely going to encourage the crowd to cheer and get into it,” he said. “We’re going to push on our kids that it’s more of an opportunity than a distraction. This isn’t just WVU and our rifle team, this is the whole sport of rifle in the U.S. and globally. It’s moving in that direction with having more noise from the crowd and music playing and more things going on. It’s what has to happen to help grow the sport and make it more enjoyable to watch.”