Matt Healey finds his niche in coaching shooting team

It sometimes takes people years to find their niche, to learn an avocation that gives them their greatest joy during their free time.

Matt Healey found his relatively early in life. Now he’s passing that joy on to others.

For nearly six years, Healey has been the head coach of the very successful Grand Valley Marskmen shooting team.

The Marksmen have developed a reputation as one of the top-shooting clubs in the country, perenially earning awards at the national shooting competition at Fort Perry, Ohio.

Healey sees himself not as the coach who developed a top-notch club but rather as one who continued a well-established tradition. He credits the club’s assistant coaches with being as integral to its success as he is.

“All of our coaches have come up through the program,” Healey said.

Shortly after moving his family to the Grand Valley in the mid-1980s, Healey’s father, John, bought Matt, then a middle school student, a pellet gun. Neighbors got the younger Healey interested in hunting two years later.

The friends took him to a safety fair, where Healey learned of a shooting club in town.

He joined and stayed with it.

He became serious about shooting six years after joining the club, continuing with it through high school and college at Mesa State.

By then, the two shooting clubs in town at the time merged into one, the Grand Valley Marksmen.

“I got more and more involved,” he said.

His involvement led to his becoming an assistant coach for the Marksmen in 1997.

Among his first duties was trying to procure money so the club could buy more equipment. The club was able to get grant money from the National Rifle Association.

“Some of our equiment dated back to World War II,” he said of the military-style rifles used for competition. “As we got better equipment, we started seeing more and more success.”

With that success, the six to eight club members at the time starting bringing their siblings and friends to shoot as the club gradually grew in numbers.

The club now has 25 members. Because of limited space at the Colorado Division of Wildlife indoor shooting range and at the club’s outdoor range on Orchard Mesa, there is a cap on membership. For the past four years, the club has had a waiting list.

“Most of our new shooters are family or friends,” Healey said.

New club members generally spend two years shooting at the indoor range before earning their certification to shoot high-powered rifles at the outdoor range.

Healey views his role as a coach in two parts.
“There’s a part of your sport that’s the technical aspect,” he said. “That’s the easy part.

“The other half as a coach is you’re part parent (and) you’re also essentially a peer.”
Phil Born, a coach of one of the clubs that merged to become the Grand Valley Marksmen, has been coaching junior rifle shooters for 26 years. He said three things make Healey stand out as a rifle coach.

“No. 1 is personality; No. 2 is a lot of experience; No. 3 is dedication,” said Born, who began his junior rifle career in Grand Junction in 1954. “I would say right there you have the whole story.”

Several of Healey’s younger charges often call him to talk about things other than shooting, the travails of life that young people normally encounter in their journey through the teen years.

It’s that balancing act of coaching them on their shooting while also being an amateur psychologist that challenges Healey.

“To be successful as a coach you have to act more or less as a magician,” he said.

Born said Healey’s ability to relate to the teens is one of his assets as a coach.

“He enjoys being with them and working with them,” Born said.

The sport appeals to a lot of youngsters who don’t find themselves fitting into the traditional athletic mold. Healey considers himself a classic role model in that respect.

“I discovered shooting,” he said. “That’s where I became successful. Once I got that confidence, I was able to attempt more difficult things.”

The Grand Valley Marksmen, as with other shooting clubs, have to combat the public concern about the use of rifles. Safety and responsibility are at the top of the list of rules by which the club abides.

“Because of the (Dylan) Klebolds and the (Eric) Harrises, we’ve had to look at our image,” Healey said.

“It’s simply not the typle of people they are,” he said of the Marksmen. “A lot of these high-powered (rifle competitors) take their guns home with them. You turn those over to them without worried about it.”

His charges learn the proper use and the proper respect for their rifles.

“The nature of the equipment demands responsibility,” he said. “I want very self-reliant athletes. “I’m not going to baby-sit (them).”

As he tells his club members, “You’re not going to do something to hurt your team.”

His function, as he sees it, is to get his shooters to take bigger steps and bigger risks as far as challenging themselves.

“Basically (it’s) taking the impossible and making it possible,” he said.


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