In the 2010-2011 campaign, the University of Kentucky Co men’s and women’s team took 1st place and won the National Championship for the first time in the school’s rifle history (Go Cats).  The team narrowly edged out West Virginia University to win it in Columbus, Ohio. As a national championship sport here at UK, they have not received nearly enough publicity due to the nature of this sport. When you type in UK rifle in the Kentucky Kernel archives, you will come across only one or two articles. Generally, Basketball and Football receive more recognition through articles even after a humiliating loss. This is why the rifle team deserves way more recognition. Just like most sports here at UK, they are barely reported. Football and Basketball dominate the sport sections regardless of the success. A perfect example would be the current disappointing season the football team is currently facing this year. I understand that in the sporting world, Football and Basketball already dominate the headlines, but we do not need to follow in the same path as the mass media. The fact that we have such a great rifle history and currently ranked #1 in the nation says to me that they deserve more. These young male and female student athletes need as much recognition as any other sports deserves here at UK. We are all a family here at the Big Blue Nation regardless the sport and we should support them as we show our excellence as a University. Unfortunately rifle is not a popular sport and as a result, most people have basic to zero knowledge on the team and the rich history that is in place here at the University of Kentucky.

Before even start taking about the sport here at UK and why it deserves more fame, we need to actually learn the sport. As said earlier, people around campus could not describe what they do as a sport other than some form of shooting. In 1871, the United States set up the National Rifle Association (NRA) with the purpose of promoting and encouraging rifle shooting on a “scientific” basis. In 1872 ranges were opened on Long Beach Island and with a few re-locations that ended up landing in Camp Perry on the shore of Lake Eire in northern Ohio, Rifle matches began. The sport of shooting actually gained enough popularity to become an Olympic sport in 1896. The Olympic sport has more to it than what is done in college. In the Olympics, there are 9 different events for men and 6 different events for women which range from distance of the target to the actual gun being used. It was only in 1903 did rifle clubs started to appear around the United States including four major colleges, Universities and military academies. The actual sport for NCAA rules is conducted into two categories, Smallbore and Air Rifle. In each event, there are 60 shots for both Air Rifle and Smallbore. In the Smallbore event, you shoot a 22 caliber rifle in 3 different positions. Prone, kneeling, and standing with each position shooting 20 shots. You get a time limit of 2 hours to complete this course. In Air Rifle, you shoot all 60 shots standing with an hour and 45 minutes to complete this course. The reason why it takes so long is that each shot has to be reloaded individually which will add to the amount of time it takes for each shot because you have to get back into perfect position. Each shot takes an extreme amount of focus because of how small each target is. To get the perfect amount of points, it requires you to hit a in a target that is about 4 to 5 millimeters in diameters from about 10 meters away. As this sport has been explained, it is a very mental sport that requires a lot of detail and a steady aim. The points are accumulated as a team which gives a final result in whether you have won or lost.

One topic that needs to be brought up is the role of the sport. It is not one of the top revenue sports created. With the sport of rifle, there are many politics that are involved such as the fact they have guns. Guns have always been a debate in this country starting from when it was first formed. To have a sport based on the marksmanship of a man or woman may cause parents to be wary in joining. In the history of this sport, over 180 schools had a rifle team that was involved with the ROTC. As the price to stay competitive in the sport rose and the way that ROTC felt that marksmanship was not as an important skill required, the sport began to fade. With the less commitment to the art of marksmanship and the always constant debate on guns, the sport proved to never really outgain the popularity of the major sports that our current today. Even with that all being said, the sport still is alive today.

University of Kentucky has not had a long history with this sport by moving from a club sport to a varsity sport only in the late ‘90s. Harry Mullins has been a part of this rifle team since it has been started as a club sport in 1982. He himself has been in the sport back in Germany where in Europe; it is a much larger sport than here in the United States. Mullins grew up in Burgau, Germany as an “army brat”. His father served in the military as a sergeant which had Harry moving often until at age 11 he landed in the United States. In Indianapolis and Georgia, he began shooting at a shooting club for army teens. In high school he continued shooting where he became good enough to attend UK to join the rifle team. He was the smallbore champion in 83’,84’, and 86’. In 1987, he graduated from UK and right away began work as the head coach of the rifle program. He has grown up around the sport and continues to instill his knowledge in these student athletes at his alma mater. With his first national championship, he has also been recognized by others as a good coach by winning the Great American Rifle Conference Coach of the year in 1994, 2001, and 2006.

He has coached great individuals as well which includes 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist Nancy Napoliski and also former NCAA Women Athlete of the Year nominee Taryn Lewis. The list continues with 4 time first team All American in both smallbore and air rifle Bradley Whelldon. He also continued to become a silver medalist in the 2003 Pan American Games. With a great coach, they are blessed to have a great Assistant coach in Stacy Underwood. She herself was an All-American in both Smallbore and Air Rifle at her time at the University of Nebraska (a in conference opponent). She is in her fourth year at the University of Kentucky and instills her great knowledge and advice into these athletes as well. Now the program should not be only noted for its past and the great people behind its student athletes but because of the amazing athletes that we have here.

These athletes work just as hard as most Division I athletes do. In a sport that’s so mentally challenging, they dedicate themselves fully to becoming and maintaining the best team in the nation. Each member wakes up at 7Am on North Campus and gets ready for the day, eating around that time. From 8-11:50 Am, they take classes as all student athletes are required.  From 1 to 3:30 Pm, they practice in a state of the art facility located on campus near the CATS building. There they work out till 5pm as it requires a physical side to this sport. From there they eat, have their CATS tutor hours, and repeat this process each day. As of actual days of the meets, they change it up by having a light practice before and being mentally prepared for the meet at hand. All of these athletes work just as hard as any other varsity sport here, fully dedicating themselves to their craft and work on being their best. Just like the rest of the other sports, they should not be over looked and deserves more than what they get now.

Their season is a lot different than any other sport here at UK. The season kicks off in the middle of October and continues its way to the NCAA championships in early March. What makes it so unique is that this team travels far and wide including meets held in Alaska. The schedule that they have allows for a lot of time in between meets in order to practice and make perfect before the next time out. They only have 10 meets before NCAA qualifiers in February. The few rifle home meets are held on campus located in Barker Hall. All of our equipment is up to date which has been known for one of the best places to compete. All of the scores are updated online right as it happens. To keep their top ranking, they need to perform at a high level each and every time they are out. The importance of keeping a high ranking is because in this sport, the top7 ranking teams automatically qualify for the NCAA championship regardless on how well they perform in their conference tournaments. To keep on top of the rankings, you need a well-rounded team where everyone is very capable of holding their own against their opponents.

The athletes that make up the #1 ranked team in the nation have 12 members, 7 girls and 8 guys as this is a co-ed sport. These guys have come from local Kentucky to all the way from Germany.

In the rifle community, these guys are the real deal with Henri Junghanel and Stacy Wheatley leading the way. Junghanel already represents his country of Germany in the World Cup for the past two years now. He has already won a Gold medal for his efforts in the World Cup. In college, he led the way for the wildcats last year for both Air Rifle and Smallbore. In his first year at the University of Kentucky, he was honored as an All-American in both the fields. Wheatley has been a long time force for this team for years now earning All-GARC accolades in Air Rifle this past year. As one of the older members of the team, she is looked upon to lead this pretty young wildcat team into performing well. She is right here from Kentucky attending Iroquois high school in Louisville. Now you also add in Emily Holsopple, another All-American, who has been one of the top prospects in the nation a few years back. She has shown why she was a top prospect by setting a school record of 597 score in Air Rifle in this season already. This proves why we deserve the number 1 ranking in the nation as so much talent comes in at each meet. With so much hype surrounding the current basketball team, this current rifle team most definitely has the potential to repeat as national champions due to the strength in their top performers along with the depth they have as a team.

One life lesson with this sport is that it truly prepares a person for the game of life. Even if things are going that well that day, you have to continue to push onwards because you are the only one able to fix it. You cannot just ignore it and expect things to get better. Also with that when you push on to better your life by this type of work ethic. In life, not everything is based of natural talent. This sport teaches you that hard work is important and working hard will truly get you somewhere.

In an interview with the head coach Harry Mullins, he explained a lot about the uniqueness of this sport and why he believes that with these athletes, coaching staff, and the nature of the sport they shouldn’t be looked over. One thing that Coach Mullins says is so unique and great about the sport is its actual nature of it. With the team we have here, we are a team that has both male and female. Along with that many schools have just girl’s only teams. With that being stated, this sport is one of the rare sports left that both male and female can compete on an equal ground. No matter what race, age, gender, or physical talents you have, this sport will only reward the best marksman. This sport is very similar to golf. The way this sport is played, you are competing against an opponent on the course not against each other. You cannot do things to affect his score but to see their score and try to outshoot them. What adds to the pressure of this sport is that you are on a team so each member relies on your score. Like coach said, “so when you’re having a bad day, you can’t be the guy who goes and plays defense the whole time and let Johnny do offense. Everyone has to do the same thing all the time.” “Even when things are going bad, you have to focus on all aspects of the game.”

The University of Kentucky has always been known for a superb athletic program and is especially known for the fan base that backs them. The big blue nation is known about world-wide as seen by the amount of people that travel where the basketball team goes. With such a great fan base, we seem to leave out the rifle team. This team has a great history, current coaches that other teams envy, and the athletes that have led to a national championship last year and a current number 1 ranking this year. With so much talent on this team, the current support that we have as a university is disappointing. This current team has so much talent that it’s hard not to appreciate their work. A quote from Vince Carter, a great NBA dunking legend, stated what I feel is the current attitude of this team. “I don’t want or need to gain respect with what I do off the court. I want respect for what I do on the court.” This team is not out there to show boat and force the attention of their peers. They put in the dedication and with our without us will continue to perform at the highest level. This sport has deserved to be recognized more than what they are currently getting even with the sport not being a popular sport. All athletes here deserve the warmth of the big blue nation and with their talent that time should be soon.