December 26, 2005
Revival of WVU’s rifle team makes for a happy ending
By The Associated Press
MORGANTOWN — Cheryl Launer had just arrived home from work in Johnsonburg, Pa., one afternoon in April 2003, when she received a phone call from her son Brian, a freshman on the West Virginia University rifle team.
Brian rarely called home at that time of day, so Cheryl Launer was surprised to hear her son’s voice on the other end of the line. It wasn’t long before surprise turned to concern.
“The way his voice was, I thought he was hurt,’’ she said. “I thought he was going to tell me he had been hit by a car. It sounded that way. You knew it was a bad phone call.’’ Her intuition was correct.
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Brian Launer had emerged from a meeting where he had been informed by WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong that the school was cutting the rifle team, along with the men’s tennis team, the men’s cross country team and the men’s indoor and outdoor track teams.
“He was devastated,’’ Cheryl said. “They cut the team. We couldn’t believe it.’’
Brian thought he was being summoned to an end-of-the-year meeting with athletic department officials. To say he was shocked to discover he no longer had a rifle team to shoot for would be a massive understatement.
The Mountaineers had advanced to the NCAA championships in 2003, competing in the smallbore events.
“I didn’t know what to do,’’ he said. “It was too late to transfer at that time. I really didn’t know what was going on. You’re pretty confused.’’
Brian cringed at the thought of leaving WVU. He loved the school, the electrical engineering program and shooting for the Mountaineers’ nationally renowned rifle team.
Ultimately, Brian elected to remain in Morgantown as a student. “I thought it was worth it for me to stay and finish it out instead of starting over somewhere else,’’ he said.
In reality, Launer had faced greater adversity in his young life. Shortly before his junior year at Johnsonburg Area High, he was hit in his right eye with a paint ball.
Launer retained some vision in the eye before surgery, but doctors worried that they might not be able to save his vision. He was bedridden for three weeks but eventually regained full vision in the eye.
“The doctors did seven other surgeries like mine, and I was the only one who came out not legally blind,’’ he said.
The accident set Launer back in his attempts to earn a college rifle scholarship. Launer, who had started silhouette shooting at age 11 under the tutelage of his grandfather, George Haupricht, gratefully accepted an offer to walk on at WVU. He competed on an NCAA team his freshman year and was enjoying life in Morgantown until the team was axed.
Cheryl remembers how sad Brian was when she and her husband, Donald, traveled to Morgantown to pick him up at the end of the spring semester.
“He just loved the university,’’ she said. “He loved it from the first day we brought him down. He couldn’t see leaving. He was hoping the team would come back.’’
When the Launers arrived in Morgantown, athletes from the cut teams were picketing the Coliseum and parading around with signs on Jerry West Boulevard. By the time the Launers arrived back home in Johnsonburg, they decided they were going to do everything in their power to get the rifle team reinstated.
“It consumed us for a while,’’ Cheryl said.
The Launers threw themselves into the process, starting petitions, making phone calls to politicians and helping launch fundraising events. Cheryl even called the office of WVU graduate and comic legend Don Knotts. The Launers were joined by thousands of others in the long journey to reinstate the rifle team.
“I thought we had some hope, especially after we started getting politicians involved,’’ Brian said. “It seemed like hope kept on building and building. We formed a club team and won a club national championship the next year.’’
He’ll never forget the day he received a phone call from then teammate Nicole Allaire, who informed him that WVU was reinstating the rifle team. The Mountaineers went 3-8 last year in their first season back.
Launer’s smallbore (573.25) and air rifle (576.5) averages were the second highest on the team. He was one of only two shooters on the team to have counting scores in both disciplines in every match.
The Mountaineers are off to a slow start this season, but Launer, a senior academically but a junior athletically, is hardly discouraged. His goals and his optimism for WVU rifle remain high.
“We were really good my freshman year,’’ he said. “I remember what it was like to be on a team like that. I’m hoping we can get back to that level. We’re in our second year back. You’re starting to see us build it back up. We have two recruits for next year who are big-time. Next year we should be a lot better.’’