Riflery at Harvard: Shooting for Life

Riflery is suffering, ironically, a very quiet death at Harvard. In ten days, if--and it seems very unlikely--the Athletic Department closes the rifle range indefinitely to the University, few students will notice and even fewer will protest.

The issue, predictably, is money. Not very much money, one or two thousand dollars. But more than the Athletic Department or the individual members of the Rifle Club can afford.

The money is primarily needed to hire a range master who would supervise shooting practices. Since 1970, when riflery became a varsity sport, Harvard's range has been poorly monitored and, as a result, badly damaged.

Niki Janus, assistant director for athletics at Harvard explained. "The range is used by the Pistol Club and the Police as well as the Rifle Club. At this point, it is pretty shot up although we don't know by whom. The problem is one of controlling access. And of course making sure that conditions for shooting are safe."

The clubs have complained to the Athletic Department for three years now about the lack of supervision. Robert Watson, director of athletics, said Thursday that the Athletics Department was only now "prompted to take action" because the gun laws in Massachusetts have been made more stringent.

The law now requires that the state have on file the name of everyone who purchases a firearm, with the penalty for non-compliance a mandatory year in jail.

Watson admits that until last spring, when the law was enacted, the rifle program at Harvard was "a very loosely run situation." Before 1970, Harvard had two rifle ranges, one in the basement of Memorial Hall and one below the I.A.B., both of which were maintained by the R O T C. Since that time, the Athletics Department has exercised little control over the range, located in the basement of the University Printing offices, which falls under its jurisdiction.

Watson said Thursday, "I don't know what will happen to the rifle program now. But, quite frankly, I just don't have the money."

But the Athletic Department, while awarding varsity letters to its members has never given the rifle team any financial support. The team has only four guns, none of which is in top condition, and shooters have had to supply most of their own equipment.

Each year, the approximately 40 team members, have had to pay at least $20 in dues towards ammunition and upkeep. In the past, the team has elected not to enter Ivy League competition because travel costs would be too steep.

Last year, John Coles '75, the team's captain for three years and top shooter in the Ivy League in 1973, personally supported the squad to the tune of about $400. And yet, despite this cost factor, 15 students have already expressed an interest in joining the squad this year.

The personnel has changed dramatically since the days of military science. It is the only truly co-ed varsity sport at Harvard with shooter Betsy Innskeep '75 the first woman ever to earn a varsity Harvard letter in 1973. And at least four women are anxious to learn to shoot this year.

Bob Ginn, the soft-spoken associate director of the Office of Career Services, might not be the type of person you would expect to bemoan riflery's elimination from Harvard's roster of varsity sports. But Ginn, an ordained minister and former senior tutor of Quincy House, has even volunteered along with Coles to coach the team without pay if necessary.

Explains Ginn: "I like to shoot because of the mental discipline involved. Shooting is very much like transcendental meditation or different styles and modes of Yoga. You must have complete control over your body and a very high degree of concentration. That's what I try to get across to beginners."

Coles feels similarly about riflery. "It's a very personal sport," he said. "There is really no competition except between yourself and inanimate objects. Like one of those Japanese fighting skills, it's a body control exercise."

Though Riflery's public image suffers from the fall-put of anti-gun and anti-hunting sentiment, neither Ginn nor Coles can remember any hunters on the Harvard squad.

Coles said Thursday, "I punch holes in paper, that's about as violent as I get. I don't like blood. Shooting really has nothing to do with that hunting, running around, drinking beer and wearing red jackets business."

No one, not Ginn nor Coles nor the members of the Athletic Department, wants to see the range shut down or the rifle team dissolved. But Watson says that he cannot find the money and has given the rifle club until October 15th to solicit the necessary funds from alumni team members.

Ginn said yesterday that he understood that the Athletic Department was on an austerity budget. "I simply object to their priorities," he said.

The Athletic Department has tried to cut most of the fat from its other programs. But, trimmed or not, football, soccer, crew, fencing, every other varsity sport will go on.

Riflery has never asked the department for anything. Now, it is being asked to maintain a University facility--or perish. "It's as simple as this," Coles said. "If there is no money, there is no range. This is the end."