Photo by James Mullay
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— Among all of the extracurricular activities offered at Jacksonville University, one program tends to fly under the radar.
In only the ten years it’s been active, the JU shooting team has already become 19-time Association of College Unions International and Scholastic Clay Target Program champions.
David Dobson works as a coach for the team, as well as an adjunct professor at Jacksonville University.
“I’ve spent most my life mentoring and teaching other people,” Dobson said. “I wish I would have had some of the mentoring. I had to literally go and twist people’s arms and pick their brains and learn through osmosis.”
This year will mark ten years since Dobson founded the Sporting Clays, Skeet, and Trap team. Since then, Dobson has sought to inspire and teach students the importance of accountability and respect.
“This is a mentor program,” said Dobson. “I teach them about leadership, about life, about responsibility, about accountability. You know, you make a mistake, you get up, and you take ownership of it.”
Dobson explains that his own experiences drove him to establish the team at JU.
At 10, Dobson began shooting .22 rifles at the YMCA. From there, he learned the art of shooting a shotgun while duck-hunting with his father in rural Pennsylvania.
Most of his teenage years were spent shooting trap and skeet, until his family moved to Europe, forcing him to put a hold on his hobby.
After returning to the states and moving to Jacksonville to pursue graduate studies, he would return to what he loved.
Dobson is a level three instructor certified by the National Sporting Clays Association and the National Skeet Shooting Association, the highest levels of certification.
Dobson spent 10 to 12 years on the competitive shooting circuit. In 1998, his focus shifted as he opened his own shooting school, called the Dobson Performance Shooting School.
About a decade later, Dobson’s wife pitched an idea for him to pursue.
“My wife said, ‘why don’t we do a college program?’” Dobson said. “She had done a bunch of research. In 2009, I put together a business model and made a presentation to JU. They loved it. Met with the president. They loved it.”
He was then asked to act as a volunteer coach for the team.
“I said, ‘I’ll have you a national championship in two years,’” Dobson said. “So, two years later, we saw the national championship.”
In addition to success in competitions, the team has been able to maintain a perfect safety record to this date.
The team has a strong influence over their own decisions and matters concerning them.
“If you ask the students on the team, ‘Who runs it around here?’” Dobson said. “They say, ‘We run it.’ They run the business, they are responsible for it. I make sure they keep it on track. They make really good decisions, solid decisions.”
The prestige of Dobson’s program is enough to attract students, like Matthew DeBrod, senior management and marketing double major, to JU.
“I actually found out about this university because of our shooting program,” sayd DeBord. “I wanted to get a great education plus I wanted to be able to shoot college, and this university had a great shooting and business programs.”
According to Dobson, the team is more of a family rather than a team of random people.
Palmer Szavuly, who’s been a member of the team since 2016, confirmed this sentiment. He elaborated by explaining how the trip to San Antonio, Texas for the national championship event was a huge bonding time for the members.
“We’ll take four vans, and it’s a 21-hour drive when it’s all said and done,” Szavuly said. “You’re in the cars with the same people for 21 hours, and you build relationships that are unlike any other shoot we go to.”
Dobson explained that the number of competition at such events adds to the difficulty.
“We have about a hundred or more schools out there, 870 athletes,” Dobson said. “JU is always top five or eight every year, across all divisions. That’s where you get all your Olympic talent. I mean, we had sixteen people selected for the Olympic training program.”
Dobson explains how protective and careful the team is of their fellow members.
“So, we aren’t the bad guys with guns.”