Hillsdale College — my favorite college in the United States — just won a bunch of national shooting trophies, beating out the likes of West Point, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech. They pulled off an amazing feat at the Scholastic Action Shooting Program (SASP) College Nationals this March.
The funny part is that I had no idea that Hillsdale had an Action Shooting Team or that action pistol shooting was even a college sport! I assumed their team had won some sort of bullseye match using air pistols or .22’s. Boy, was I wrong! Wait ’til you read this story.
If any of you were fans of the late Rush Limbaugh, you undoubtedly regularly heard him talk about Hillsdale College (located in Hillsdale, Michigan) on his syndicated radio show. Rush was a big fan of the high-quality, classical liberal arts education that young and old alike could receive from this amazing place.
Although I had never been to the Hillsdale campus before, I have a niece who graduated from there several years back. She genuinely enjoyed her time there and benefitted greatly from it. There is also a young lady who attends my church who has been going to Hillsdale for two years now and absolutely loves it. Not only that, I also use Hillsdale’s free online courses for supplemental instruction in some of the classes I teach at my college. Yet, there is even more to Hillsdale than I originally thought.
Hillsdale College was established in 1844 and has an amazing history (to learn more about the school, click here). A big part of their curriculum and programs focuses on our rights under the United States Constitution and the teachings of our founders and other great leaders such as Lady Margaret Thatcher, Sir Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Socrates and Frederick Douglass — the latter of which once gave a speech on the Hillsdale Campus.
So, when my editor at The Armory Life emailed me and asked me if I wanted to do a story about Hillsdale’s shooting team — which I didn’t know they had — winning a national championship, I immediately said “yes!”. In a couple of days, I found myself driving north to meet with Hillsdale’s Senior Development Officer Gena Grant and find out more about the team — and the campus.
Amazing Institution, Amazing Team
Once at Hillsdale, I learned that the college fields an Action (Pistol) Shooting Team that operates under the auspices of the Scholastic Action Shooting Program. The Hillsdale Chargers Action Shooting Team, consisting of 10 students — nine males and one female — who competed in the SASP College Nationals that were held in Talladega, Alabama, from March 12-13 this year.
The Chargers were well equipped with Springfield Armory-supplied handguns that meet the requirements for competition in the Stock Service Pistol and 1911 Pistol Divisions. Springfield supplied their 9mm XD-M Elite 5.25”-barreled Precision Pistol with fiber optic front sight and fully adjustable rear sight, and for the 1911 category they supplied Springfield Armory 9mm 1911 pistols with fully adjustable rear sights.
Not only did Springfield Armory provide access to top-end firearms for competition, they also provided access to internationally recognized action shooting champion Rob Leatham — which the team tells me helped them immensely in learning the particular skills necessary to excel at this type of shooting.
I met with the Hillsdale Action Shooting team’s faculty advisor Dr. Charles Steele, Associate Professor and Chairman of the Economics, Business and Accounting Department at Hillsdale. Originally from Montana, Dr. Steele is not your average economics professor. Dr. Steele is himself a USPSA competitive shooter and handgun enthusiast. He is a firm defender of the U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment, and is a great fit for the position of this team’s faculty advisor.
At the heart of the team is coach Adam Burlew. Coach Burlew is an experienced law enforcement officer and Hillsdale Campus Security Officer. Most importantly, Coach Burlew is an experienced instructor, and in years past donated his time to the collegiate shooting program.
I caught up with Coach Burlew while he was conducting training drills with team member Greg Clement, using a SIRT Laser Training pistol in the Hillsdale Athletic Fieldhouse. They were working in one corner where they had set up a series of standard 8” steel plates in one of the basic competition patterns.
As I watched Coach Burlew work with Greg, a big smile broke out on my face. I wondered how many colleges in the United States these days would allow even simulated pistol practice in their fieldhouse. Here at Hillsdale, no one thinks a thing of it. Even though there is no “clang” on the steel, SIRT training is highly beneficial and can be done nearly anywhere. With Coach Burlew watching and scoring, the stress level on the training — which is further driven by the team members’ pursuit of excellence — is high enough to ensure that it will pay big dividends when it is competition time.
Because of the particularly onerous provisions of Michigan’s COVID-19 lockdowns, Burlew and his team were pressed for time to develop the team to its full potential — or so they thought. He had months, instead of years, to bring this group up to national championship performance.
This, in turn, is what makes their performance even more amazing. Only three out of the 10 team members would have been considered “serious” shooters before they joined the team. The team members ranged from sophomore to senior classmen, and three of the members are military veterans.
How They Did
The group of 10 was divided by skill into an A and B teams. Targets used for Action Shooting are stationary round- and square-steel plates set at varying distances and patterns. The plates do not fall when hit — an observed hit and the resultant “clang” is all that is needed to score.
The team did exceptionally well, and against some very stiff competition. The “A” squad got 1st place nationally in the 1911 Pistol Division, and 2nd place nationally in the Centerfire Pistol Division. The “B” squad won 3rd place nationally in the 1911 Pistol Division. Individually, Greg Clement placed 1st in the 1911 Division and 3rd in the Centerfire Division for male shooters. Sarah Wagoner placed 2nd in the 1911 Division for Female Shooters.
A lot of hard work was crammed into a short time (without affecting the students’ studies) to achieve this level of excellence. And they are working on improving even more for next year!
I was lucky enough to have lunch with the team. I asked them a few general “how did it feel to win” type questions, but mostly I listened to them and watched their interaction with each other and Coach Burlew. Their camaraderie was wonderful. They exchanged ideas and suggestions about fitness — particularly weightlifting and diet — to improve performance even more in competitions. They also discussed their shooting regimen with Coach Burlew.
During lunch, there was also a lot of good-natured ribbing as part of the conversation. I also noticed the guy’s interaction with Sarah Wagoner — the lone female on the team — in an “older brother” type of way. It was obvious they had a lot of respect for her. It was great to see that the team members were never on their smartphones during lunch — they were interacting with each other and Coach Burlew!
At the end of lunch, I was introduced to Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn. He was very proud of the Action Shooting Team’s accomplishments, and the college as a whole. His ongoing support is critically important for future development and progress of the team. It was a refreshing attitude, indeed.
One other thing I want to mention is the truly world-class shooting range located at Hillsdale. Sited on 113 acres of beautiful woodland, the John Anthony Halter Shooting Sports Education Center has ranges available for small arms, archery and shotgun shooting — including four American trap fields, five Olympic bunker trap fields, four American and international skeet fields, one five-stand sporting clays field, and a 22-station sporting clays course. Public memberships are available. I couldn’t see all the shooting areas because it had been pouring down rain on the day I was there. However, I did get to see the AcuSport Lodge — a beautiful and immaculately maintained building where various animal trophies and fine firearms were on display.
I was introduced to Jim Braman, who is the range’s Manager of Operations and Hospitality, and Barbie Keiser, Guest and Event Services Manager of the AcuSport Lodge. It truly is a world-class facility. The facility is open for public use and will be sponsoring the Para Trap Grand Prix International Shotgun Competition May 11-16, 2022.
What a wonderful experience it was to spend two days at Hillsdale. I want to thank everyone who assisted me and answered my questions. Congratulations again to Coach Adam Burlew, Dr. Charles Steele and Hillsdale President Larry Arnn. Also want to congratulate the members of the Chargers Action Shooting Team: Zac Ailes, Senior Captain, Sara Wagoner, Zech Steiger, Konrad Ludwig, Greg Clement, Patton Harmon, William Galsterer, Dean Ballantyne, Lionel Armstrong and Taylor Chen.
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