With March Madness everyone’s focus is on the West Virginia Men’s Basketball team. Then, in the fall the focus is on Football, but there’s one championship team the Mountaineers have that should receive attention but doesn’t.
The West Virginia University Rifle Team has won back-to-back National Championships, and in the 2016 Summer Olympics a team member won the first Gold medal for the United States. This is all great, yes, but one Wheeling man helped pave the way for this team’s success.
“We started a good thing,” former team member Ray VanKirk told 7News Reporter Nick Conigliaro.
The Mountaineer Rifle team took home their 18th NCAA Championships trophy earlier this month, completing a perfect season. Which for Ray is phenomenal to see.
“I watched the statistics on the internet before the scores and everything and they were fabulous.”
Ray is now 82 years old, but 70 years ago he was an integral part to the rifle teams beginning. Even though he didn’t even know about them.
WVU world is focused on March Madness, but 1 team has already won a championship. I met an original member of the WVU Rifle Team @WTRF7News pic.twitter.com/uuuVzQyoXP— Nick Conigliaro (@NConigliaroWTRF) March 23, 2017
“I found out about the rifle team by accident,” Ray said. “They kind of lassoed me in and pulled me in on the team. I didn’t know what I was doing at first.”
Regardless of not knowing, once he joined the team he was a presence. He helped the team defeat Pitt, VMI, Duquesne, and Maryland. And in 1955 he was awarded the James C Borden Memorial Trophy for his leadership within the team. But when he sees what him and the other pioneers on his team did for this program he has one simple response
“Wow. I’m speechless really because back at that time we just did it for the fun.”
But one big problem he’s continuously seen since back when he was on the team is the lack of coverage they recieve.
“The rifle team has no audience. They can’t pay enough for people to come see the rifle team fire.”
Ray went on to say though that he gets it, the other teams bring in more revenue, but he still believes people should go out and support the championship winning team. As for if he thinks he could hang with this team.
“No, no, what they have to go through now, no way. Us old timers we would never even be able to keep up with them.”
Ray did tell 7News’ Conigliaro he does still have a range in his garage where he shoots the same rifle he used 70 years ago, just to stay fresh.