During the summer before I had started at Tabor, my father imparted another of his sage stories. This one was very brief and had to do with his experiences in college. He had enjoyed considerable success on the pistol team and his advice was simple. Seek to experience the irreplaceable feeling of being a champion. Tabor had dozens of sports to choose from and you had to choose. There was no PE class. Everyone had to go out for a sport in fall, winter, and spring. There were many choices for each season so there was always an opportunity to try new things. Along the way I played my first game of soccer, I played squash for the first time, and I played lacrosse. I had learned tennis in Florida so that was a good sport for the spring. But, to no ones surprise, the one I really wanted was the rifle team.
I tried out for the team in the winter of 1966-67 and barely made it. It had been a while since I had done any shooting. The team that year was pretty good and we competed against the other prep schools in the conference. I was very proud that I had earned my first high school varsity letter while still a sophomore. But I was a minor player. We had won no championships and I had none of the feelings of victory that I had expected. What I did have was a new and great group of friends. Our commonality was the rifle team. Arthur was on the team and another townie whose father was also a teacher there, Michael. The most important part of the team that year was the friendships. I’m sure no one at that time would have known how desperate I was for those friendships. I was accepted as a friend and as a teammate. I was one happy kid.
I participated in the spring sport that year and then the fall sport in my junior year but it was the rifle team I wanted. There were only 2 seniors on this team, Ed and Art. When we lost the first match I couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I felt like I had to do more but I had no leadership skills. My father suggested that I set about becoming the best shot on the team in the hope that everyone else would try to catch up. I really don’t know why, but it worked. We started winning and winning some more by ever-increasing margins. We developed our own competitions within the team and that became the most important part of it all.
As it happened, we never lost again. We finished out the year 22-1 including some extra tournaments outside the normal schedule. None of us wanted the season to end. We had become both great friends and great teammates. I won the Highest Aggregate Total Score trophy for the year and we all talked about the possibilities for next year. For my part, I was going to do something extra to better prepare myself for the coming year.
The next summer I signed up for and participated in the Massachusetts State Championship. My father and I went together. It was the only time he ever saw me shoot. The unusual part for me was that it was outdoors at 100 yards, not the usual indoors at 50 feet. My father’s advice was invaluable to my success and I knew it. I had never experienced varying wind conditions or glaring sunlight before. At the end I had won 1st place in all positions and 1st place aggregate. I would return to school in the fall as the Massachusetts State Junior Champion. I had fulfilled the wish of my father’s advice to know what it meant to be a champion and we had done it together.
I came to know much later that this would be the zenith of my relationship with my father. Never again would we share such an adventure. He would never again attend a championship match. He would only see the trophies and the medals that were a result. His life was turning toward his new wife and her two daughters and while I would forever miss the possibility of a new adventure with him, I somehow understood what was happening.
When my senior year started I was overflowing with enthusiasm. I had learned dozens of the fine points in the art of shooting and I couldn’t wait to share it all with my friends. The fall sports season couldn’t end fast enough and finally the time came for the beginning of our great year. In a moment of great weakness and utter stupidity I forgot that I still did not have any leadership qualities. Instead of treating my teammates as equals that we always were I went in with the attitude that I was superior. In the first week of the season the normal vote was taken for the new Captain. While the Captain had always been the one who was the best shot, I had committed the unpardonable sin of not leading by example. By a unanimous vote someone else was Captain. I was crushed. Being Captain was an integral part of following in my father’s footsteps and that was all gone now.
I decided that I would try to make up for this failure by being better than anyone had ever been. I would do everything I could to help make this team as good as it could be. I had learned so much over the summer that I started out significantly better and everyone else had gotten better as well. We were winning every match and it started to become apparent that this team was going to be very special. We finished the normal season without a loss. But this team was so special that we began to look outside the normal schedule.
We shot against the Otis Air Force Base rifle team, the US Coast Guard team, St. John’s University team, Norwich University and won them all. We won the Maine State Championship. We beat Northeastern University and then went on to the tournament at the US Military Academy at West Point. While we didn’t win the overall championship there, we did win our category easily. It was, however a good lesson for us to see how the big boys and girls did it.
Interestingly, we participated in the NRA National Junior Indoor Rifle Championships held at Littleton, NH. We placed 4th out of 88 teams in nonmilitary scholastic completion and we were very proud of that. For me, however we had beaten Miami Military Academy by 50 points. They were in a different category but to me (and to me only I guess) that was a major personal victory.
Then it was over. We had won 48 straight tournaments, we had beaten some of the most prestigious teams in the area, and each of us would always have a full trophy case to remind us of what had happened. I again had won the high aggregate trophy and then it was over. None of us would ever shoot very much after that. I went on to be the Captain of the freshman rifle team at Northeastern University, but it wasn’t the same. We had all gone our separate ways and taken those unique qualities of extraordinary teams with us. But our friendships would remain. Over the years we would get together as friends and talk about our lives and families. Our most extraordinary achievement together was our own and it rarely ever came up in conversation.
© J T Weaver