The following article appeared in the July 18 edition of the Boston Herald and was written by Tim Bresnahan
Stephen Scherer shares a birthday with George Washington. His sister, Sarah, and mother, Susan, celebrate one on the same day as Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, respectively.
“We’re three of the men on Mount Rushmore,” Susan said with a laugh.
So it’s fitting that the Billerica family produced such a monumental upset at the U.S. Olympic shooting trials in March, when Stephen, 19, won the air rifle competition to punch his ticket to Beijing. Sarah, 17, nearly made the team as well, placing second in the women’s air rifle, but her brother’s performance in Colorado Springs, Colo., sent shockwaves through the shooting world.
Against a field that included two-time Olympic air rifleman Jason Parker and 2004 Olympic prone rifle gold medalist Matt Emmons, Scherer kept his composure and strung together three extraordinary rounds (595, 597, 594) to prevail.
“He shot the three best scores of his life at the Olympic trials. . . . You couldn’t dream that,” said Ron Wigger, rifle coach at the U.S. Military Academy, where Scherer will be a sophomore in the fall. “He’d never been on the national development team, he’d never made the final of the Junior Olympics. It’s like an amateur at the U.S. Open being able to hang in there until the 18th hole on the fourth day. You never see an upset of that magnitude at that level of competition.”
The following week at the NCAA championships, Scherer finished fifth in air rifle (and third in smallbore) with scores closer to his average in the 588-589 range - results that underscored how remarkable his performance at the trials was.
“That match, everything pretty much went well,” Scherer said. “Nothing really tripped me up. It was good to know my potential. I wasn’t feeling that much pressure until the last day. I was just getting into my groove and trying to do what I could to keep it simple. It worked out.”
After the trials, Scherer traveled to China, Germany and Italy to compete in World Cup events. He hopes the crash course in top-level international shooting will quell some of his nerves when he competes in Beijing on Aug. 11, but doesn’t deny that the Olympic experience will be unique.
“Being able to represent your country and, for me, the Army also, is a great opportunity,” said Scherer, the first active Cadet to make the Olympics in any sport since 1960.
Scherer and his sister were introduced to shooting by family friends eight years ago. Instantly smitten, they joined the junior program at the Mass. Rifle Association in Woburn.
Susan, who didn’t let her kids have even a water gun when they were smaller, not only changed her tune; she became a participant, both as a shooter and a scorekeeper.
A single mother who home-schooled Stephen and Sarah, Susan has taken various jobs (from painting to child care, often with her children working alongside her) to support the family’s passion.
“Probably a few years into it, we pretty much (decided) any extra money just went to the sport, to the next thing they needed,” she said. “With God’s help, literally . . . it has been a team effort. The three of us are very bonded together. They’ve always been at my side. It’s a joy, even if we’re up to 2 in the morning getting a painting job done.”
Wigger, for one, knows a good tale when he hears one.
“I’m hoping he has a personal best again, because if he does, he has a shot at a medal,” the coach said of Stephen. “It’s unbelievable that he performed that way at the Olympic trials, so why not expect him to do the same thing at the Olympics?
“Obviously, shooting is not one of the mainstream sports in this country, unfortunately, but there’s not a better (Olympic) story that I can think of than what this young man is all about.”