Mt. Lebanon fundraiser at rifle range raises $2,000 to battle cancer

One big target: Fight disease

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Mt. Lebanon High School's rifle range has not changed much since its construction in 1936.

"I've done some rough calculations, and at least 3 million rounds have been fired at that backstop," Dave Willard, head coach of the school's rifle team said about the wall on which targets are mounted.

Many of those shots are aimed for the sake of competition. Last week, however, the rounds served a different purpose.

The range was the site of the second annual Shoot Out Cancer, a fundraiser started by assistant rifle coach Bryan Pierce in memory of his cousin Joshua Schmidt, who died of adrenal cancer in 2011 at age 29. This year, proceeds exceeded $2,000, effectively doubling the $1,200 raised at the initial event.

"Josh was probably the closest person to a brother I had," said Mr. Pierce, 20, a 2010 Mt. Lebanon graduate and former member of the rifle team.

Mr. Pierce organized the fundraiser as a way to integrate one of his favorite pursuits -- he finished third in state competition as a senior -- with taking an active role in fighting cancer. Most of the participants the first year were Mt. Lebanon teachers.

This year, about 75 teachers took part, up from 50 in 2012. The rifle coaches credited Rolf Briegel, a high school science teacher, with drumming up support through the Mt. Lebanon Education Association.

Also joining in the event, which wrapped up Saturday, were members of the Mt. Lebanon police and fire departments, Medical Rescue Team South Authority and Castle Shannon police.

Participants made donations to support the Adrenal Cancer Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. In turn, they had an opportunity to shoot Olympic-grade rifles at targets. Many had never done so.

"Some people have it a little rough the first time," said junior Kaelyn Chick, who will be rifle team captain next year. "It's patience and practice."

Team members offered assistance throughout the week-long event, providing hands-on guidance.

Other local high schools with rifle teams -- Bethel Park, Butler Area, Plum and Woodland Hills -- started their own Shoot Out Cancer events this year, with the proceeds going toward related causes.

Also participating at Mt. Lebanon were members of Mr. Pierce's family. His mother, Kathie Pierce, and aunt Betsy Switalski, who got him interested in joining the rifle team, kept track of scores, and Erin Schmidt visited to greet those who were paying tribute to her late husband.

Another of Mr. Pierce's aunts, Barbara Muse of Upper St. Clair, was at the event with her family, including son Daniel, 8, who was excited to take his turn at shooting.

"Everybody deals with grief differently," Mrs. Muse said. "Bryan chose to turn a negative into a positive. He was looking for a way to honor Josh but also to give the rifle team another purpose, a positive influence."

Rifle has been a varsity sport at Mt. Lebanon for more than 75 years. The future of the range, though, is in question, as its retention was not included iin the high school's $109 million renovation project.

The school board is considering whether to invest in upgrades to the range or find another home range for the team.


Harry Funk, freelance writer:


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