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BG senior starts rifle club

Sport can help students gain new skills

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School senior Abby Novak, 18, of Gallitzin, has worked to start a new rifle club at the school./Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School has a new rifle club.

“The club is a unique opportunity for BG in the area,” said Abby Novak, a senior at the high school who led a two-year effort to start it.

Novak, a Gallitzin native, grew up shooting with her uncles, starting with BB guns, moving to .22s and eventually graduating to higher caliber firearms. Around the time she started attending BG, she said Bishop Carroll began a rifle team. At one point a friend said to her, “If they have one, maybe we can get one, too.”

“Besides the schools up the mountain and Everett, there are no other schools with a rifle club or team,” Novak said.

But now, BG is one more area school offering this opportunity to its students.

Novak said the new club is inclusive — anyone can join: male or female, athletes or non-athletes. She emphasized that due to health reasons, some students may not have the opportunity to play sports like football or soccer, but they might be able to shoot. She said another advantage is students don’t have to participate every week if they have schedule conflicts.

Novak said there is definitely an interest in shooting within her age group, citing thousands of youth hunters living in the state. She said the sport will help her peers gain new skills beyond shooting and gun safety.

“It teaches you discipline,” Novak said. “You can have a lot of fun with this in a safe manner.”

That’s a point BG athletic director Joe Landolfi emphasized. Landolfi said he shot pistol competitively many years ago.

“Shooting sports are really about mental discipline,” he said. “You have to stay focused on the fundamentals like breathing, otherwise you’re not going to hit the target.”

Students who participate in the rifle club will shoot at the Riggles Gap Sportsman’s Club. They will have the chance to learn breath control, trigger control, concentration and shooting from three positions: prone, kneeling and off-hand (standing without support), according to Tim Merritts, president of Blair County Game, Fish and Forestry Association.

Merritts said BG’s rifle club will operate in conjunction with an existing youth program that has three to four instructors. He said students will have access to BB guns, air rifles and .22s.

Students will shoot in the club’s indoor range, specifically designed for .22 caliber and lower. Merritts said air rifle shoots are at 10 meters from a target (a little more than 30 feet), BB shoots are at 5 meters and .22 shoots are at 50 feet.

“I think it’s a great program,” Merritts said of BG’s new rifle club. “Anytime we get youth involved, we try to support any way we can.”

Landolfi said he guided Novak in considering how to create the club, but that it was really “all her.”

“Abby deserves a world of credit — that young lady was absolutely driven to make this happen,” Landolfi said.

Novak began research on starting the club in her sophomore year. In her junior year, she began talking to local ranges about putting the club together, but a soccer injury in the fall and the pandemic in the spring set her back for months.

She said as soon as her senior year started, she was working with Landolfi and other administrators, visiting ranges and meeting range instructors and board members. She highlighted the support she received from those at Bishop Guilfoyle and the Blair County Game, Fish and Forestry Association. She also credited Bishop Carroll’s rifle club for offering advice.

Bishop Guilfoyle’s moderator is Tyler Miller, a social studies teacher at the school, Novak said.

So far, four students are interested in joining, Novak said, but she believes more will join as the word spreads. With time, she hopes the club will become competitive, open the door to new clubs dedicated to other types of shooting, inspire others to start similar clubs at local schools and even become a PIAA sport.

Novak is set to graduate at the end of this school year and said she is looking to do competitive shooting at a college or university. She said the challenge right now is finding one that has both her desired major — environmental engineering — and her sport of choice.

Mirror Staff Writer Dom Cuzzolina is at 814-946-7428.

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