In Erie County's Section VI, there are six local schools that still have rifle teams: Alden, Clarence, Iroquois, Kenmore & Orchard Park, each with teams of anywhere from 15 to 40 students.
In the past several years, at least three local schools have dropped teams, and many more in the past decade or so have moved to off-site ranges, in part because of lead contamination, but also because of changing views on guns, according to Orchard Park Coach Richard Ortlepp.
" Mostly the lead. They didn't want to put the money in (ranges) for the ventilation system, but in the past ten years it started to be because of the attitude toward rifles and shooting," he says.
In a typical meet, the students stand on a firing line, and load single shots, one at a time into their rifle, shooting at targets approx. 33 feet away. Most events use air rifles, while some have live ammunition.
At Tuesday's Kenmore-OP meet, you'd be hard pressed to pigeonhole the kids: Some wore ball caps, another had pink-dyed hair. There were slightly more female students than males.
"I had large numbers of turnouts for tryouts this year," says Kenmore Coach Trevor Brown."
" It's an individual sport for them so a lot of my students can excel on their own. " .
"They like to challenge themselves. They like to push themselves. Pretty much everyone on my team is taking honors, Advance Placement, (international baccalaureate) course, so they are really interested in that whole ' What can I do to better myself' mindset."
Ortleff says some of the appeal may be because the sport is in his words, "safer than football,' and can attract students who aren't as physically adept as some others.
"We don't run. We don't jump. We don't bump into each other. There are no broken bones, no bruises. It's a very safe sport," he says, adding that concentration and individual competition are a factor in the students that turn out.
Both Ortlepp and Brown say the new state gun laws could effect the sport, to some degree.
Their rifles have features that could qualify as a banned "assault rifle", Ortleff says. . Ammo restrictions do not apply, as each gun holds a single bullet reloaded by hand, after each shot.
"Will it change some stuff? Probably." says Brown. " Does it certainly bring a different awareness to things that we have to deal with? Yes, of course, but we are so safe because we use the air rifles.." he says.
Here's A Selection of Photos from Tuesday's Orchard Park - Kenmore Meet
Students line up to shoot , at the Buffalo Rifle and Revolver club...
... and then gather to go over their targets and mark scoring
|Above photos courtesy of range operator Joe Lichtenthal, Buffalo Rifle and Revolver Club|