Top Guns Return To Columbus




The following feature on Army rifle coach Ron Wigger appeared in The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on Friday, March 11.

Their love of shooting competition grew when they were teens in the same club. Now, more than 30 years later, Harry Mullins and Maj. Ron Wigger will compete in Columbus, their childhood home.

The NCAA Rifle Championships begin here this morning with smallbore three-position shooting on Fort Benning at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit’s Pool Range complex.

Competition finishes Saturday with air rifle shooting in the Frank G. Lumpkin Jr. Center on the Columbus State University campus.

There are eight coed teams competing. One of those, the University of Kentucky, is coached by Mullins, a 1982 graduate of Spencer High School. Another is the U.S. Military Academy coached by Wigger, who got his diploma in 1978 from Carver High.

Other teams battling to be No. 1 are the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Jacksonville State University, Murray State University, Texas Christian University, the U.S, Naval Academy and the University of West Virgina.

Besides qualifiers from the eight teams, shooters from Ohio State, University of Nebraska, University of Memphis, University of Nevada-Reno, Air Force Academy and University of Texas-El Paso will compete for individual titles.

Texas Christian was the champ last year. Both Mullins and Wigger consider that school a favorite along with top-ranked West Virginia, the 2009 champ. West Virginia has recorded the highest score this year, an NCAA record 4,704.

Mullins said he has had some great teams and feels this team is solid. “Everything seemed to fall into place this year,” said the coach who has had four teams take the runner-up spot.

“Always the bridesmaid,” said Mullins.

Of his Army team, Wigger remarked, “It is a great accomplishment that we qualified. Getting to the NCAA was a lofty goal for a team with two freshmen and two sophomores.”

He won’t count them out as a contender.

Wigger, a two-time national coach of the year, is well aware of the mental toughness it takes for a team to win. His Army squad hoisted the national championship trophy in 2005. Of this year’s group of competitors, he called the field “outstanding.”

The friendship between Wigger and Mullins has been a long one and is strong. The two speak as often as four times in a week.

Since Wigger, 50, is older than Mullins, 47, their childhood competition as boys came not so much on high school squads but as members of Fort Benning’s Junior Club, a shooting organization for Army teens.

“I learned a lot about shooting,” said Mullins.

The Kentucky coach enjoyed Columbus. He fondly recalls playing YMCA soccer and watching high school football. “I don’t recall Spencer winning very many,” he said, laughing.

Mullins, married with two children, visits regularly. His mother still lives here.

The coach, who has lived in Lexington, Ky., for more than 25 years, said he still gets homesick for Columbus. Bull Creek Golf Course is an old friend.

It amazes Mullins how the city continues to grow. His mother lives near Northside High. “It used to be rural,” he said.

Mullins, born in Germany, didn’t speak English until he was eight. He was raised by his stepfather, an Army sergeant, Al Mullins, who was a world-class international skeet shooter.

Harry Mullins was a student at Kentucky and won several shooting championships. Just a year after graduating, he became the team’s coach and has been at the helm since 1987.

Wigger’s family is one of the most famous in the shooting world. His father, Lt. Col. Lones Wigger Jr., is in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, an honor well deserved for someone who was a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and four-time Olympic qualifier. Ron Wigger’s sister Deena also competed in the Olympic Games.

“There’s a lot of pressure when your dad is the best in the world. Everyone knows the name,” said Wigger. He said his dad never pushed him into shooting, but he figured it was kind of expected. He began as a teen. “It was something new and exciting,” he said.

He competed in the Olympic trials but didn’t make it to the games. That doesn’t mean that Wigger, now married with three daughters, hasn’t been successful as a shooter. He was awarded the International Distinguished Shooting Badge by USA Shooting in the summer of 2002 based on his gold medal performance in smallbore prone shooting at the 1988 World Cup. He was also the runner-up in the USA Shooting National Championships in 1987 and 1991. As a collegian, he was a member of Eastern Kentucky’s team that finished third at the NCAA Championships.

Both Wigger and Mullins said it would be special to win a national championship here.

“I still consider it home,” said Wigger.

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