Area athletes should get a shot at biathlon

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2006

In a culture haunted by the spectre of school shootings, it was a minor miracle that the Kenai Peninsula School District and Arctic Winter Games host society were able to build a shooting range for Games biathlon competitions at Skyview High School.

Now that the Games are over, that miracle is over, as well, and thats a shame.

The range is world class with 10 targets, snow hoods and lights for night shooting. Situated as it is next to the also impressive Tsalteshi Trails system, it could be used to train biathletes in the tradition of Olympian Jay Hakkinen of Kasilof, who honed his skills while attending Skyview in the mid-1990s.

But the range is coming down, an undeserved victim of fear and governmental red tape.

In order to build the range and hold Games biathlon events at Skyview, organizers had to navigate the labyrinth of hoops and hurdles that have sprouted as a result of the school shooting tragedies at Colorados Columbine High School, Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore., and others. Federal law dictates a student be expelled for a year if they bring a gun on school grounds without written permission from a superintendent.

In Alaska, the state as well as a superintendent must give approval for a student to have a gun on school grounds.

State approval for the Games range came with strict guidelines: biathletes were only allowed to hold rifles in the presence of officials, coaches packed up the guns at the end of each day, law enforcement officers stored the rifles until the next morning, and the biathlon range would be removed after the Games.

Thats unfortunate.

School safety is obviously of the utmost importance and the threat of school shootings whether an intentional rampage or freak accident should not be taken lightly.

But biathlon is being unfairly tainted by the fear associated with the guns in schools issue. Its a sport and a valuable one at that, as it teaches firearm safety and involves requires athleticism as well as concentration and fine motor skills. Biathlon celebrates winter and embraces a hunting heritage, making it seem like it was invented for the Kenai Peninsula.

Its unreasonable to think that having a school biathlon program increases the likelihood of a school shooting. If a disturbed youth was bent on shooting up a school, there would be far easier ways to go about it than joining a biathlon team where they would have to learn to ski, keep their grades up, attend practices and be under a coachs watchful eye. With all the hunters on the peninsula, itd be much easier to swipe a gun from someones home or truck, for that matter.

But whether its fair of not, rules are rules and they say the range cant stay.

The question then becomes, where will it go?

Suggestions so far have included the Snowshoe Gun Club range in Kenai and Centennial Park in Soldotna both steps up from simply dismantling the range, but not big steps. The gun club doesnt have ski trails for biathletes to practice on. The park, while it has some rudimentary trails, would be closed to biathlon practice during the summer, when needed maintenance and training takes place.

Building the range in the first place required a major effort. It took money the range was part of a $250,000 project to upgrade the Tsalteshi Trails system for the Games volunteer effort and a spirit of community teamwork and support for youths, all for the benefit of the visiting Games athletes.

Peninsula kids deserve that same effort.

We challenge the school district, host society and community to work as hard as they did to build the range for the Games to find a suitable home for it one that will allow our youths to pursue a sport that is perfectly suited for them.

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