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Why MIT Freshmen With Pistols Isn’t a Bad Thing

By Brian Chase
SPORTS EDITOR

In the lower levels of the Du Pont Gymnasium, behind a door that stays locked much of the day, there’s a room you might not expect to find at MIT: a shooting range, home of the MIT Pistol team. Pistol has long been a part of MIT, with a successful history of competition on many levels.

Last year, eight MIT pistol shooters bested the military academies at the National Rifle Association Intercollegiate Pistol Championship, beating Navy by four points to be crowned the best Pistol squad in the country. But that’s not the surprising part. What’s surprising is that seven of the eight competitors from MIT had never picked up a gun before setting foot on campus.

MIT Varsity Pistol is the second of three squads The Tech is highlighting this week in a series of articles about sports at MIT that experience great success with students who began competing at MIT. Pistol definitely qualifies — nearly all the members of the Pistol team join with no experience in shooting at all.

Pistol Coach Will Hart explained that “here at MIT we start at ground zero, at the very, very basic: this is a gun, this is where you point it, this is how you aim it, this is how you release the trigger. Everything is done at a very basic level and goes from basic to elite by the time [the students] graduate.”

Competing against the military academies, where, Coach Hart said, the students start “way ahead of the curve,” how can MIT perform so well? The MIT athletes succeed by virtue of “the same attributes that it takes to become an MIT student: the dedication, the time management, attention to detail, focus, self-discipline,” which all contribute to becoming a good pistol shooter, Hart said.

Coach Hart added that MIT athletes demonstrated this perseverance at the NRA Championship meet, where they improved themselves as the matches progressed despite initial struggles, while students from the other schools did not always handle adversity as well.

Of course, becoming an All-American pistol shooter takes practice too. A varsity sport, Pistol meets from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday. However, that does not mean that Pistol teams members are out on the range the whole time. New shooters, who cannot hold a gun up long, practice only for 30 to 45 minutes every day. Experienced shooters may train over an hour.

Because there are more team members than range spots, the team relays groups of team members in and out of the range. Students select which relay they practice in, and Coach Hart allows team members to miss practices for coursework, making the training schedule flexible.

Anyone can try out for Pistol. There isn’t a big physical requirement, except the upper body strength to hold the gun up, and this is developed over time. And nearly everyone trying out has little or no experience with the pistol. If you feel uncomfortable trying out for the team outright, you can try taking the Pistol PE class to see if you like it.

Coach Hart has had future National Champions join the team both through the PE class and straight out. However, not everyone who tries out will be able to make the team this year because it draws so much interest, Hart said.

Once on the team, students can reap large benefits. Each experienced team member is paired with one or two new members to help with their training. Not only does this help the newbies develop faster, but it also creates strong friendships and social bonds within the team.

Another benefit is stress release, which is powerful in pistol. Students “come from working all day and get to focus on one thing intensely,” Hart described. That intense focus and the following release of shooting is relaxing and a great way to work off tension (I speak from personal experience).

If you have a preconception of shooting as an uncontrolled, dangerous sport, you might to come down to the range for a class, or join the team. Not only might you discover a fun activity, but you could become an All-American. It has certainly happened before.