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Split Leaves U.S. Team Short of Its Target : Shooting: Funding is biggest problem without NRA, but group says progress is being made that may again include NRA.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After the 1984 Olympics, the National Rifle Assn. gathered the six U.S. medal winners in shooting to take pictures for a promotional poster.

The medalists--three men and three women--posed in front of the Washington Monument, smiling broadly.

When the poster came out, the smiles were still there, the medals were shining and across the bottom was written, “We’re the NRA.”

The U.S. shooting team has since parted company with the NRA, but it might be only a matter of time before they are partners again.

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It has been more than a year since the NRA was removed as the sport’s national governing body, and not quite four months since the new governing body, USA Shooting, was approved by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Nothing is definite, but talks are being held on bringing the feuding factions together again.

The NRA and members of the U.S. shooting team argued over control for years before the NRA stepped aside in March 1994. The athletes wanted more say about the use of team funds and the right to put their people in positions of power. The NRA was happy with the job being done by the International Competitions Committee, an organization established to handle the U.S. shooting team. According to the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, the International Competitions Committee was to have been independent of the NRA, but never was, according to the athletes who stepped forward.

The battle raged until mid-1993, when the NRA tried to take over the U.S. Shooting Team Foundation, an independent money-raising group. That group filed a complaint with the USOC.

In 1994, after a series of committee hearings, the USOC recommended that the NRA, after 16 years, be replaced as the sport’s governing body.

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The NRA resigned the day before the decision was made official.

“It was a good-old-boys system,” said Terry Anderson, a pistol shooter and 19-year veteran of the U.S. teams as both a coach and competitor. “We asked them to modify, to negotiate a deal, but in the end they wouldn’t make the changes we asked.”

Said Don Rakestraw, the NRA’s executive director of general operations, “The feeling that many of us had here was that we weren’t being appreciated. There were a very small group of people who got involved and who know the details of the breakup. Many of the shooters don’t know the facts and, frankly, don’t care. I would say the majority were happy with the NRA as the national governing body.”

Some shooters said that getting rid of the NRA was like shooting the goose that laid the golden eggs. When it left, the NRA took half of USA shooting’s budget, $1.3 million, and cut off use of two important mailing lists--its 3-million member mailing roster and another directory of 170,000 program supporters.

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“We used to not have to worry about funding . . . like other [national governing bodies] because we had a sugar daddy,” said Stevan Richards, president of USA Shooting’s board. “But with the NRA gone, we knew we were placing a great challenge in front of us.”

The challenge continues.

Amid the bustle of the USA Shooting national championships at the Prado-Tiro shooting ranges in Chino, organizers talk of reaching out to possible new sponsors and boast of the future of their sport.

“We control our own destiny,” Anderson said.

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Ammunition manufacturers, as sponsors, already contribute a lot of money, but USA Shooting believes it can persuade other companies to sign on as sponsors, thus recouping some of the money that left with the NRA.

“We know that perhaps a McDonald’s or Chevrolet or Coca-Cola isn’t going to sponsor shooting,” Richards said. “But the shooting sports market has not been particularly well tapped. There are opportunities there.”

Representatives from USA Shooting met Thursday with members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a group of lawmakers in the House and Senate who safeguard the interests of hunters and fishermen and are planning a fund-raiser for USA Shooting.

“We are starting with a clean slate,” Anderson said. “People know now that there is no hidden agenda. We are a group with one focus: to develop world-class level shooters in the U.S.”

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Family is the word used now to describe the makeup of USA Shooting. Last Sunday, the first members meeting was held at Prado-Tiro. More than 300 members posed questions and got answers.

“With the past organization, decisions were made behind closed doors,” Richards said. “That created ill will and mistrust. The biggest single improvement we have made is, we are sharing ideas and getting the members involved in the decisions that will affect them.”

One question almost sure to come up is whether the NRA should be taken back aboard, but this time as a sponsor. Despite past differences, their union appears to many as a perfect fit. USA Shooting could use the NRA’s money and resources, and the NRA would benefit from again having smiling faces and Olympic medals to show the public.

The 14-member board that was recognized by the USOC in March includes Rakestraw, who wears both the new hat of USA Shooting and the old cap of the NRA.

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Both sides say that nothing has been discussed formally, but talk of an NRA return as a sponsor has crossed boardroom tables.

“As a new organization we have to be very careful with whom we align ourself,” Richards said. “I don’t foresee anything happening in the near future, but down the line. . . . “

USA Shooting did ask the NRA about handling the classification of its shooters. The NRA has the computer programs and the hardware but quoted a price considerably higher then USA Shooting had anticipated.

“We were looking to see if they could help us, and they were looking to see how much they could make,” Anderson said.

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The two players may never be perfectly happy together, but they may also not be perfectly happy apart. Each time a young shooter advances from picking off cans to the Olympic team, both groups deserve credit.

“Nearly every competitor out here will tell you he got his start because of the NRA,” said Bill Platt, a USA Shooting board member. “They are essential in developing the young shooters, essential in getting people interested in the sport.”

The NRA says it will continue to work at the grass-roots level. USA Shooting finds that encouraging because it is working with a tight budget and has had to manage its resources carefully. The money and manpower are heavily weighted to the Olympic team, leaving others, like the younger shooters, in the NRA’s hands.

There is even some indication that the relationship between the NRA and USA Shooting is improving. The competitors, for the most part, would not be against the NRA becoming a sponsor, provided their new freedom under USA Shooting remains intact.

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“I think both sides are looking at it now as, the past is the past,” Rakestraw said. “All along when we were the NGB and now as an organization which is on board as counsel, the intention has been to help develop U.S. shooting. That is the goal for both sides.”


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