Despite guns and schools debate, participation on high school rifle teams is increasing

Landon Badac first picked up a gun at around 4 years old. 

“My grandpa, who was a big influence in my life in the outdoors, taught me how to shoot very early, gun safety, and how to live in the outdoors, pretty much,” the Armstrong High School senior explained. “He’s a very avid hunter, and I’ve been hunting with him ever since then.” 

Badac picked up his grandfather’s habits, becoming a frequent hunter and fisherman himself. 

And when he heard his high school was starting a rifle program, he said he “signed up as soon as the first meeting.” 

Rifle is one of five sports the WPIAL oversees during the winter season, with championships dating to 1942. 

The annual WPIAL team championships will take place Tuesday, with the individual championships Thursday. 

And even in a time of uncertainty regarding guns and schools, the sport has seen growth in recent years in Western Pennsylvania. 

Armstrong will become the WPIAL’s 16th full-time rifle program when it becomes an official member of the league in 2019-20; the River Hawks are a probationary member this season, competing with an exhibition schedule. 

Penn-Trafford, Waynesburg and West Greene also added programs in recent seasons. 

“A lot of the kids that are joining the program are kids that are hunters, or their parents take them to the ranges, so they’re a little bit familiar with guns and everything,” Penn-Trafford coach Diana Long said. “That has a lot to do with it. A lot of them just hear about the overall program. A lot of the kids who I had for the first four years talked the program up and tried to get a lot of their friends interested.”

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