Right on Target
Missouri is famous for college athletics, but one of the state's most competitive programs seldom makes the sports pages.
The shooting team from Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield is the only collegiate shooting team in Missouri. It competes against other college teams around the country in trap and skeet, target pistol and target rifle. The shooting team attracts a variety of students, including members of the football team and women's basketball team.
"We've had shooting sports programs at SMSU since the 1960s," said Dr. Burl Self, shooting sports education program director at SMSU. He also teaches geography and Middle East politics. "It's a long tradition here. We've had some very good teams, and invariably we've been ranked in the top five nationally.
"Three years ago, we were ranked No. 4," he added, "right behind Navy, Army and Air Force. We develop good teams, and 100 percent of our shooting team members graduate."
Self said the shooting program enjoys solid support from both the student body and the administration. "Firearms are regarded very positively here," he explained, "and more countries are participating in organized shooting sports than ever."
He gave as an example, the sport of biathlon, an endurance event that combines rifle target shooting with cross-country snow skiing. It's one of the world's most popular sports in terms of participation. He added that shooting events lead all Olympic sports in numbers of teams.
"The most active competitive shooting societies in the world are Russian and eastern European," Self said. "The Russians usually dominate shooting sports competition."
Since 1972, Self has promoted shooting sports at SMSU. "The shooting sports are a time-honored, American tradition," Self said, "and anyone can enjoy them for the rest of their life."
He said many young people are fascinated with shooting, and the students involved reflect positively on the university.
"At SMSU, the shooting sports program has been a major influence in perpetuating a good image for firearms and firearms owners," Self said. "Our student participants are socially and academically well-adjusted, and I believe the athletic competition promotes life skills that are very important to leading a successful life."
Self's credentials are impressive. He's been shooting competitively since 1956, when he joined the Oklahoma National Guard. After entering the regular Army, he competed with the U.S. Army-Alaska rifle and pistol team, and later with the First Armored Division rifle and pistol team. Returning to the Oklahoma