Despite being home to 17 NCAA-recognized sports teams, only one team at West Virginia University allows the strengths of men and women to come together on a level playing field.
Established in 1951, WVU’s rifle team is the only coed sports team on campus. The team has featured athletes from both genders since before it became a recognized NCAA sport in 1980.
The team has laid claim to many All-Americans over the years and has also featured numerous Olympians including gold medalist Ginny Thrasher (2016) and current head coach Jon Hammond (2008, 2012).
Since taking over as head coach in 2006, Hammond has been able to effectively harness the skills of all of the team’s shooters. The team has won the national championship six times in his tenure, with five of those wins coming consecutively from the 2013 to 2017 seasons. The Mountaineers have also finished as the national runner-up twice.
Before Hammond, the team’s success came at the hands of his college coach, Marsha Beasley—the first female coach in the history of the WVU rifle program. With a record of 153-23 in her 16 seasons, she helped bring eight national championships in nine seasons back to Morgantown.
During both coaching tenures, men and women have found prosperity. According to athletic department records, across the 28 combined seasons of the two coaching stints, nearly half of those seasons featured four or more team members obtaining first-team All-American honors.
While the team’s coed status may help them when facing targets, there are also benefits that don’t show up in the box score.
“You just learn to appreciate things more. Probably be a little bit more understanding,” Hammond said when asked about the benefits of being coed. “I think you are able to be more open-minded and learn more, and I think that, overall, that’s going to make you a better person as well.”
According to the coaching staff, developing character is a key to building a successful program.
“I think a lot of that goes back to recruiting, to make sure that we’re recruiting good people and good kids first and foremost, rather than great athletes. They are all great athletes as well, but, in recent years, we’ve put more of an emphasis on just bringing good people on to the team,” Hammond said.
Hammond later added, “I think as a coach, we have to make sure that we recruit the right people for our program, and that doesn’t matter whether they are girls or guys.”