MCPHERSON COLLEGE SHOOTING COACH TONY HELFRICH IS ALWAYS
KEEPING AN EYE OUT FOR NEW RECRUITS. It’s not uncommon to see the coach introduce himself at high school shooting competitions, campus events, or even Applebee’s.
After all, word of mouth has been one of the biggest assets in marketing and
recruiting of the barely year-old McPherson varsity shotgun team.
“Right now, the main thing we’re trying to do is get the word out,” explains
Helfrich. “I have two staff members in the enrollment admissions office that help with recruiting. I’ve run into high school coaches at Applebee’s when I notice they have a clay target shooting shirt on and start up a conversation. My wife has helped make a spreadsheet and we’ve made phone calls. And the school has been a big, big help for us getting the word out, too.
“We’re so proud of the program and all we have to offer at McPherson, but
right now we have to help get that message out.” McPherson College is nestled in the midst of the Great Plains area of McPherson, Kansas. A college with an enrollment of roughly 800 students, McPherson offers 18 different varsity men’s, women’s and co-ed athletic options in
the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. As of February 2019, shotgun sports were added to the list.
In a state with more than 70 high schools participating in the Kansas State
High School Clay Target League, it made perfect sense. “The school has really stepped up and prioritized this shotgun sports team,” said Helfrich, whose current squad of six includes a roster of experienced and new
shooters alike. “In fact, we are the first college in Kansas to offer varsity level scholarships for shotgun sports. That’s how much we’ve prioritized this team. We treat our student athletes like every other varsity student athlete, and I think the scholarships really reflect that.”
The student athletes come with all different variances of skills.
“It’s a variety,” Helfrich said. “Almost all of them have had experience with
shooting a shotgun. Almost all of them had to at one time or another. I do have one team member that has some competition experience, and I have one that really had no experience at all—and he is one of our better shooters. He’s really, really picked up on it quickly. It is a mix.
“I do have one female, and all through summer she would go out with her
grandfather and shoot once a week in prep for the season and I think that’s so great because she’s getting that time together with him. That’s a pretty cool story.”
Ethan Huston has been hunting on his family’s land for as long as he could
remember. During his freshman year, Coach Helfrich approached him about competitive shooting for the college. “I was excited to join,” said Huston, now a sophomore. “Everyone on the team is a friend of mine and getting to go out once a week to shoot with them is great. I enjoy being able to get away from school and work to do something that I love for a
Like Huston, Lola Hipp grew up shooting—though she considered herself a
rifle girl instead of shotguns. She was approached by Coach Helfrich in May with the opportunity to learn a new sport and compete for the college. She didn’t hesitate. “I love being on our squad as we work together and have fun with it,” said Hipp. “While it is competitive, we are always willing to help each other learn and get better as most of us haven’t shot competitively before. I think others would love trap shooting as it is a new experience if you have never done it. It can be challenging but
also rewarding when you do well or get better.”
Teammates like Gabriel Boese see it as just that. A transfer to McPherson last year, he heard the school was in the process of assembling a trap shooting team. A sport offered by his high school, Boese always had an interest but never an opportunity to explore it—that’s when he sought out Coach Helfrich. “I wanted to be involved with the campus, so I approached Tony, asking if he had an opening spot on the team,” recalled Boese. “Thankfully, he did. “I knew I wanted to be as involved in college activities as much as possible. Trap shooting seemed like a fun way to do so. It’s just a great way to be involved, compete, and make friends.” And that’s what it’s all about.
“With shotgun sports, we’re giving students a way to participate in athletics
that maybe they never thought of before,” said Helfrich. “You see students in high school who, if it weren’t for trap shooting wouldn’t have participated in activities with their classmates and for their school. We saw that same opportunity at McPherson. We want our student athletes to have a chance to participate. That’s what this team is all about.”