The Demmer Center at Michigan State University

Author: In the Field

The Demmer Center at Michigan State University provides shooting sports, education, and training. The facility appeals to both shooters and non-shooters across all demographics with or without disabilities. Kraig Ehm has the story.

May 22, 2018

Glen Bennett, Matt Heffelfinger and Kraig Ehm

The Demmer Center at Michigan State University provides shooting sports, education, and training. The facility appeals to both shooters and non-shooters across all demographics with or without disabilities.

In the Field with The Demmer Center at Michigan State University - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In The Field, a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm your host, Kraig Ehm. In this episode of In The Field, I'm joined by Glenn Bennett, Demmer Center Program Coordinator and MSU Archery Team Coach. And Matt Heffelfinger, Range Safety Officer and Certified Firearms Instructor. Gentleman, thanks for joining me.

Glenn Bennett:  Appreciate you taking the time today. Thank you.

Matt Heffelfinger: Thanks for having us.

Ehm: Okay, Glenn, let's start with you. Tell us about the history of the Demmer Center.

Bennett: Well, Mr. Demmer donated a large portion of the facility. It's a shooting sports and education center. It's located on East Jolly Road, just off College. And we have a large contingent of MSU Archery Team there, along with a riffle and pistol team.

Ehm: Now, I was looking at the website and it said, "The vision is to develop a world class shooting sports education and training center that provides a safe, clean family atmosphere appealing to both shooters and non-shooters". So, you take anybody?

Bennett: Yes, we take anybody that has the least ability to try, and wanna try out archery and riffle and pistol. And we take them from ... right to the beginning, right to probably a pro-staff or an Olympic elite archer, and riffle and pistol.

Ehm: What are some the reactions from people that maybe are not used to shooting, that come out there and go through your course?

Bennett: Well, I think the first thing is that some people are actually a little bit intimidated at first 'cause they're not used to doing that kind of activity. And you know, we always want make sure that people feel safe and are welcome. We wanna make sure that they get a "Spartan" experience.

Ehm: What are some of the different activities and classes that you do offer, at the Demmer Center?

Bennett: Well, near and dear to my heart, of course, is the MSU Archery Team, but that ... Yeah, we have a large contingent of kids, about 160 kids that are on the Junior Olympic Archery Development Team. So, we take kids from, say, 6-18 years old, teach them Olympic-style Archery. And of course, the paramount thing there at the Demmer Center, is being safe at all times.

Ehm: Matt, let's talk to you. The American Marksman TV show is coming to the Demmer Center. Talk a little bit about that.

Heffelfinger: So, the American Marksman Program is a new competition that's being developed into a TV show. It is for the average Joe. It excludes professional shooters or those who are highly ranked on a national scale. There are several different categories you can enter in. So, there is a women's only division, a men's only, for juniors under 17, and then a military law enforcement division as well. And the ultimate prize, after the National Championship next year, is $50 thousand. Sign-ups for local level are going on right now. So, we'll start out with a local qualifier, have you compete in that with a set course of fire at our range. We are one of the local ranges for the competition. After that, sometime in the middle of the summer there'll be Regional Level. And beyond that, National's are scheduled to take place next year.

Ehm: What specifically, will they be shooting?

Heffelfinger: For our program ... For us, we are limited to .22, that works well with the American Marksman Program. It is also a .22 based competition, at least in the local qualifying stages and it will be riffle or pistol categories.

Ehm: Now, are you talking indoors and outdoors? Or, will it be specifically indoors?

Heffelfinger:  I believe in the later stages there will be some outdoor competition. We have a very nice heated, indoor range. So, particularly, for Michigan this time of year, it'll be a nice indoor experience.

Ehm: How big of deal is it for the Demmer Center to be able to host this?

Heffelfinger: This is huge. We've made a few progressions recently. We're always trying to build, get more certifications. We recently were certified as an Olympic Training Center. And so, getting another competition that we can host is wonderful.

Ehm: Glenn, let's talk about the importance of the Demmer Center and it's tie in with the College of Ag. and Natural Resources.

Bennett: It's really important, you know, not too many colleges, Michigan State being leading edge of education and agricultural, not too many colleges actually have a shooting sports and education center. It's important that we keep the outdoors and hunting and our target archery and riffle and pistol team going. Having a world class facility just helps, not only the kids that are involved with these programs, but we wanna make sure that, number one, they're safe. Number two, that we're actually contributing to these kids coming along, being elite athletes, if you will. There's no better place to go than Michigan State. We always wanna be on the forefront of technology and everything. So, it's important, not only for the college, but for kids to be involved, coming out and getting the "Spartan" experience every week and just having a great time, making them feel welcome, warm. And you know, getting parents involved and possibly making sure these kids continue on with their education. Possibly coming to Michigan State, preferable Michigan State. And, you never know, we could have the next Olympian walking through the doors. And you just never know what's gonna happen. So, it's really exciting and it's really world class to have these kids and this up to date shooting center.

Ehm: What are some of the reactions that you get from the kids and the parents after they've had their first shot or they've had their first experience at the Demmer Center?

Bennett: Well, you know, it's really overwhelming. As a couch, you bring these kids along and their first shot is like, "Shoot, I can really so this kinda stuff. This is fun." We understand that not every kid's gonna be a 250 pound middle linebacker or a football or soccer player. The shooting sports kinda evens things out. We understand that the shooting sports is a lot of mental management and stuff like that. So, it's really important that we work with these kids and bring them along the right way. Teach them how to be safe and make sure that they don't get hurt. It's really important that we have these shooting sports and education centers throughout the country and we're just delighted to have this facility out there. It's just awesome.

Ehm: Over the years, have you seen a decline in the number of people who are participating in shooting sports? And if so, would a facility like the Demmer Center, hopefully, help increase those numbers?

Bennett: I think, yes. I think it does. What we're seeing a lot of is a lot of women getting involved with shooting sports. And it's great. A lot of women are intimidated by their husbands, boyfriends, whatever, saying "This is the way you gotta do things" and all this stuff like that. So, we break things down in nice steps where they can understand this. And you know, it's kinda funny, sometimes we actually get some boyfriends and grandfathers and fathers and stuff like that, coming back to get lessons from us, that they should've learned probably 20, 30 years ago. So, it's very cool. And you know, of course, we always wanna make sure people are coming in, having fun.

Student at Demmer Center: Its close.

Instructor at Demmer Center: You gotta work harder.

Student at Demmer Center: Yeah.

Instructor at Demmer Center: You can do it. I know you can do it.

Student at Demmer Center: Good.

Instructor at Demmer Center: We'll get it this time around.

Ehm: Matt, what puts a smile on your face when you come in and you're able to help train somebody the proper way?

Heffelfinger: I think the biggest thing is seeing their reaction, particularly, on the firearms side, we get quite a few students and members of the public that come in who have never fired a gun. I've had a few people tell me they've never been in the same room as a gun before. And to take somebody who's a bit nervous, a bit scared almost, get them out on the range and after 10 or 20 shots, they just light up, realize they can do it and do it safely. And then continue to fire and continue to improve and hit the target more and more. That's one of the big things for me.

Ehm: Glenn, same question. What puts a smile on your face when you see people come out and have a great experience at the Demmer Center?

Bennett: Well, it's rewarding as coach for these kids, parents, grandparents, being involved with our programs, supporting our programs, supporting their kids, grandkids. It's really rewarding to see some of these kids go from just a beginner archer to an elite archer, where we're actually sending kids to the Olympic Training Center for further training. And it's just rewarding as a coach to see that. It makes my job worthwhile, seeing these kids grow. Nothing more rewarding than that.

Ehm: Matt, let's talk about the firearms classes that the Demmer Center offers. What exactly do you offer?

Heffelfinger: Sure. We have a few different levels of training available. To start off with, we have what we call our "Intro sessions" and that would be somebody who's never really shot before, maybe only a couple of times, to come in. We block off about an hour of range time. We'll take them back in the classroom, make sure we get a safety briefing and we talk through how to hold and operate the firearm. And then, we'll have a range officer take them out and stick with them on the range for their range time, help get them on target, let them have fun. Beyond that, we also offer NRA Basics of Pistol and the NRA Personal Protection in the Home courses. The Personal Protection in the Home is what the state of Michigan requires, a certificate of passing for, in order to apply for a concealed pistol license. So, we get quite a few customers that come through, that will take both with us, in order to learn some of the more fundamental basics. And then really advance their shooting to the level of applying for a CPL.

Ehm: What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions are about handling a firearm? Is it safe, is it something that I can do?

Heffelfinger: On that, it's really opposite ends of the spectrum. I've had a few individuals that have come in who think it can not be dangerous, it is not dangerous as long you know what you're doing. And while that's true, to a degree, it is always something that inherently has a little bit of danger to it. You do need to treat it very deliberately and with a certain degree of caution. On the other hand, I've had individuals come in who are absolutely terrified, almost shaking because they ... all they've ever seen are guns in movies or guns on TV, used to harm. And getting them out on the range and convincing them to pull the trigger the first time and having them realize that really, it does only what you tell it to do. And seeing a good grouping in the target has been pretty exciting.

Ehm: Glenn, let's talk about the MSU Archery Team.

Bennett: As coach, I could be not happier than the group of kids we have right now. Actually, we have three kids that are actually on the United States Archery Team, which I'm very proud of. We bring a lot of energy to the game where, just a couple years ago, we were down to four members on our team. Now, we have 31 members that actually made a qualifying score. So, we plan on having the indoor Nationals out at the Mason Fairgrounds, 12th of February through the 14th of February. So, it's very rewarding to see these kids progress, even at that stage. We got beginners that just started, made qualifying scores. These kids are number one, number two, number three in the nation. We like to have to the kids actually give back, so a lot of the MSU Archery Team members are actually working with our junior kids to bring them along. I always believe in giving back to the community. And it's their way of actually showing these kids how to really, really shoot archery. It's really great.

Ehm: Where do you see or where do you hope the Demmer Center will be in five to 10 years from now?

Bennett: Well, I think within the next five to 10 years, I think you probably might see one of two Olympians actually come out of that facility. You know, us being open for only for six years now, we've actually sent two kids on to the Junior Dream Team, which is a, basically, feeder program for the Olympics. And it's really gratifying because these kids are really young. The first girl that we sent to the Olympic Training Center ... You have to be 13 to be on the team and she turned 13 while she was there for the class that they held there. And she actually made the Junior Dream Team. The other gentlemen that we had, made the Junior Dream Team, he's moved on now. He's going to college up north. And we tried to get him to go Michigan State, but he wanted to go up north. I'm not even gonna mention the college, but we hope to meet him on the playing field someday. And you never know what's gonna happen, but I'm sure we'll come out victorious, for sure. I would say it's more classes, archery classes that we have involved with just date nights, it is kinda cool. We've got women's only classes that are taught by MSU Archery women.

Heffelfinger: I know on the firearms side, we talked a little bit about the classes, but we should mention we have a couple of leagues that meet each week. So, we have a D1 Pistol league, that's our little bit faster action defensive-style Pistol Shooting. And then on Thursday nights we have Bullseye League, which is a one-handed precision shooting that meets as well. We're happy to host those leagues.

Ehm: I would like to thank Glenn Bennett, Demmer Center Program Coordinator and MSU Archery Team Coach. And Matt Heffelfinger, Range Safety Officer and Certified Firearms Instructor for joining me today. Be sure to listen next time for another episode of In The Field.