May 19, 2023
Running late for my complimentary class on the U.S. Constitution taught by Dr. Adam Carrington, I was greeted at the Civil War memorial statue between Lane and Kendall Halls by Emily Davis, director of Media Relations and Communications. Founded in 1844 by abolitionists, the Christian school had more than 400 students and alumni answer the call to serve between 1860 and ’65, 60 of whom died in defense of the Union. Dedicated in 1895, these alumni are still honored on the statue’s bronze plaques.
Hillsdale College doesn’t give the outward physical impression of a 178-year-old institution; this is due to the “classical” Second Empire and Italianate architecture that makes this small school of only 1,600 feel spacious, safe, clean and smart. In front of each building are statues that illustrate historical embodiments of the school’s Four Pillars: Learning, character, faith and freedom. Frederick Douglass’ likeness stands outside of Lane Hall with a quote from one of two speeches given at Hillsdale College in the 1860s. Opposite, in front of Kendall Hall, stands President Abraham Lincoln. Despite statues being removed throughout the U.S., Hillsdale College is erecting them. Throughout the 400 acres of campus life, one finds sculpted reminders of Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and George Washington. What brought me here, however, was news of investments being made to develop Hillsdale College’s shooting sports programs.
“You are not going to see students carrying guns to class, but it’s not a gun-free zone here,” said Rich Péwé, chief administrative officer. “The more that we can introduce shooting sports as a lifestyle, the better we can help people protect themselves. Shooting is a wonderful sport. We want to expose a large pool of people to shooting sports and give our students the opportunity to be as competitive as possible at the national and international championship level. This fits with our partnership with USA Shooting. They’re elite and some of these students have opportunities to achieve national and international championship exposure. Here, students can train without pouring their own money into it.”
Shotgunning for Medals
The John A. Halter Shooting Sports Center was already supporting Hillsdale College’s shotgun team, as well as the USA Shooting national team. Hillsdale College has hosted USA Shooting Junior Olympic Trap and Skeet development camps, as well as championships on 113 range acres for several years.
The Center currently has four International Skeet fields, a challenging 23-station Sporting Clays course, five International Trap bunkers, an International Archery range, nine American Trap fields and a lodge and grill on site.
Hillsdale College carries an incredibly successful roster of 13 shotgunners led by Coach Jordan Hintz, himself a distinguished competitor.
Though there are team guns available, I observed most were armed with personally-owned guns including the Beretta DT11 ACS, Krieghoff and Perazzi shotguns. Everyone practiced and competed with Winchester AA loads for 12 gauge.
Ida Brown is just one of Hillsdale College’s amazing shooting athletes. Using a Beretta 692, she took a silver medal at the World Shotgun Cup in Nicosia, Cyprus, in March 2022. Freshman Jordan Sapp is a another shooter to watch. He has earned a gold medal in the 2022 ISSF Junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany, while shooting a Krieghoff, and silver during the 2021 ISSF Junior World Cup in Peru. Not only is he a member of the Hillsdale College shotgun team, but he has helped the U.S. team win six medals. During my visit, I observed him practicing for the 2022 ISSF World Championships in Osijek, Croatia, and working with his classmates.
In May 2022, the Halter Shooting Sports Center hosted the International Para Trap Grand Prix along with the National Junior Olympic Rifle Championship. For those unfamiliar with World Shooting Para Trap, it was created for athletes who have a physical impairment and is based on the Olympic Trap discipline. (Keep your eyes on Sophia Bultema of Hillsdale College; I see many medals in her future.)
“This competition was a good start to get the competition growing within the U.S.,” said Caitlin Royer, Skeet World Champion and assistant program development and competition manager. Caitlin’s husband, Dale Royer, also works and trains competitors at the Center. Dale has multiple USA Shooting Junior Trap National Championships on his list of achievements, and I noted his gift for troubleshooting, correcting issues and encouraging Hillsdale’s collegiate athletes.
Action Shooting Champions
Springfield Armory donated full-size XDm Elites with 5.25-inch barrels in 9mm, and training with Pro-Shooter Rob Leatham in 2019. In just four months, with 3,000 rounds and a $5,000 budget, Coach Adam Burlew, also a local police officer, built Hillsdale’s 10-person pistol team, which included three team members who are military veterans. They earned their first national championship during their first go at the Scholastic Action Shooting Program’s (SASP) Nationals in Talladega, AL.
“A lot of dryfire was involved,” several teammates recalled. “Our students are extremely disciplined,” Burlew added. “They trained dutifully for months, and I’m proud of their performance under pressure.”
The team’s success earned them the institution’s recognition and investment, which is fueling their growth and attracting prospective students who are eager to shoot while attending college. Donors and the administration are working to help achieve the team’s goals. Springfield Armory even added new 1911 Emissary and optic-equipped XDm Elite OSP pistols to the arsenal. These additional pistols allow the team to grow and compete in other divisions.
The Action Shooting Team had been training on a square range at the Halter Center, a state-of-the-art shooting facility located 5 miles from campus, but that is about to change. During my visit, a significant donation was gifted that broke ground to create the Ailes Action Shooting Range. It will feature three 30-yard pistol bays, a 40-yard pistol bay and a 100-yard rifle range.
Hillsdale’s Action Shooting Team warms up before practice by tossing a tennis ball. This stretches the tendons and joints in their hands and shoulders, and sharpens their visual acuity. Then, each member selects the pistol they need to work on and engages a 12-inch steel plate from 25 yards. They must hit the target 10 consecutive times before moving on to that day’s practice goals. This helps each competitor focus on making every round count. Ammunition isn’t free, but a seed donation helped Coach Burlew get the team a few thousand dollars to support training with Winchester’s 115-grain FMJ load. Practice sometimes concludes with head-to-head drills that help the shooters identify deficiencies to work on and simulate the excitement that’s felt in competition.
Investing in the Future
While touring the ranges, watching practices, and meeting the coaches and competitors, I was presented with Hillsdale College’s plans to develop the Halter Shooting Sports Education Center. It will facilitate the future of Hillsdale’s shooting programs. In addition to offices and lounges, the building will feature a 24-lane, 10-meter indoor range with electronic scoring targets for Olympic air rifle and air pistol; an indoor 25-meter archery range, and a 50-meter outdoor pistol and rifle range with bleachers for spectators. Though a significant portion of the center has been funded through donations, naming opportunities still remain.
In addition to the 1,584 undergrad students who attend Hillsdale College, about 100 more are pursuing Master’s and Ph.D. graduate degrees in Government and Politics. Exactly 1,151 students currently live on campus. The average class size is small at just 14, and the typical ACT test score for incoming freshmen is 32. Ninety percent of the faculty hold the highest degree in their disciplines. Hillsdale’s administration doesn’t increase enrollment if the balance sheet is uneven; the acceptance rate was just 20 percent of its applicants in 2022.
Every Hillsdale graduate shares an extensive core curriculum that is too-often neglected from other public universities. Here, students are required to complete a course on the U.S. Constitution, for example, as well as American heritage, history, math, science and theological courses. The idea is to preserve liberty through teaching. Hillsdale College maintains its educational integrity by not accepting federal or state tax dollars. Every building and program is supported through donations and gifts. So much national awareness has come to Hillsdale College that donations even come from non-alumni, and the school only receives 7 percent of its revenue from student tuition. The hard part is getting in. If students qualify to attend, the combined tuition, room and board cost of $43,402 is reduced to around $21,150, on average.
“Hillsdale is a teaching place,” said Péwé. “Americans want their Second Amendment rights, but their knowledge is usually neglected. We must be articulate about the sport and the right to bear arms, and where that comes from. In fact, we now have an arrangement with USA Shooting to teach competitors and their families about the Constitution and the Second Amendment. We’ve seen 14- and 15-year-olds listen intently during our training camps and outreach programs. We want those intelligent patriots.”
Students come from every state, and 6.3 million people receive a free subscription to the thought-provoking publication “Imprimis” (imprimis.hillsdale.edu). Hillsdale is casting a wide net for such a small college, including speaking engagements throughout the U.S. As I personally witnessed while attending two classes — Dr. David Raney’s Western Heritage and Dr. Edward Gutiérrez’s study on Military History and Grand Strategy — a prospective student must want to study liberal arts for the sake of it. Success is awarded to those who desire to be a better person, both on and off the range.
Be sure to explore the free online courses at online.hillsdale.edu. I also recommend the complementary lectures and discussions on the Hillsdale College YouTube channel.
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