U of M rifle team is ranked in the top 10 and has
hopes of an NCAA title in March. From left, team members
Brian Phillips, Sarah Carr, J.B. Vaughan, Beth Tidmore,
Kate Benjamin and Bobby LeBlanc.
The U of M athletic department has produced all-conference
performers for decades. The latest star, though, is from a
sport that might just surprise you.
If U of M sophomore Beth Tidmore makes it to the Olympic
Games in Athens, Greece, this summer, she may want to thank,
of all people, singer Marvin Gaye.
"When I am on the line shooting, I often hum or have
a song running through my head," says Tidmore. "Today,
it is Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On.' Tomorrow, it might
be the last thing I heard on the radio. Whatever the song,
it helps me concentrate."
If the soulful singer were still alive, he might be proud.
Tidmore has just threaded the needle of a bull's-eye
no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence
more times than not during a practice session. It is this
kind of focus that has transformed Tidmore into one of the
top air rifle competitors in the country.
Tidmore won the U.S. Junior Olympics last summer at the Olympic
Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and finished as
the third best shooter of either gender at the USA National
Shooting Championship in June. Her accurate marksmanship at
this event boosted her from the national developmental squad
to the U.S. National Team.
Closer to home, Tidmore has led the University's air rifle
team to a top 10 NCAA ranking and the small bore team to a
top 20 standing. Can anybody say "Olympic Games?"
U.S. Olympic rifle coach David Johnson certainly can. "We
are going to get her some international experience this spring
to build her ability and her confidence," Johnson says.
"She is one of our top three females in the country and
has as equal of a chance as anyone else on our national team
to go to Greece. She has a great future in the sport."
Tiger rifle coach Butch Woolbright adds, "If not this
year, then 2008 for sure."
Tidmore more focused on NCAA competition at the moment
remains cautious about her chances. "This is a
new sport for me and I don't have a lot of international experience
that is what you need. There are a lot of people who
have trained longer than I have who also are in a position
Come May 21, which is the beginning of a three-day Olympic
trial, Tidmore may reach her goal, becoming the U of M's first
Olympian since track star Rudy Sylvan (2000) and basketball
player Anfernee Hardaway (1996).
Tidmore is trying hard to recall exactly what drew her to
a sport that may one day garner her international attention.
"My mom grew up on a farm, but my family members really
weren't big hunters," says the Decatur, Ga., native.
"My grandfather used to shoot at turtles to scare them
away from his pond that is about as close as I got
to a gun. I did join my junior high team, but I really don't
Whatever the reason, it didn't take long for her mother to
recognize her potential.
"She could always tell," Tidmore says with a smile.
"She bought me a very nice and expensive gun on April
Fool's Day, 2000. That is the day my scores went up dramatically.
That made the biggest difference in my shooting career."
Woolbright, who started the U of M rifle team 12 years ago,
also saw Tidmore's potential and recruited
her to Memphis. He says the one most important attribute a
shooter can possess is what makes Tidmore so
"You must have the mental discipline to do it perfectly
every time you pull the trigger," says Woolbright. "You
must get into a mental zone and do the same thing the same
way every single time."
Tidmore agrees. "It all has to be subconscious
taking aim, pulling the trigger all of it," she
says. "You want to do it without thinking about it."
At the Junior Olympic competition last summer, Tidmore's
markmanship was right on target she out-shot the other
91 competitors at the event for the gold medal. During a match
earlier this season, she shot an almost perfect score of 391
to help the U of M defeat Ole Miss.
Tidmore's sport doesn't often make headlines and most U of
M students and alumni may not even know the school fields
a team. "If I had a nickel for every time I have heard
that, we would be rich," says assistant coach John Dowdy.
"Probably most people don't even know what the sport
is all about."
Dowdy, who has been with the program since its inception
12 years ago, says that in the NCAA, the sport of rifle is
divided into two parts air rifle and small bore. At
a match, the aggregate score from these two areas determines
the overall winning squad.
Teams, which are co-ed, consist of four shooters who take
aim at a target 10 meters away. The ever-so-tiny bull's-eye
it takes magnification from even 10 meters away to
see it is worth 10 points. A perfect score in
air rifle is 400; shooters have 40 minutes to take the 80
required shots. In small bore, the maximum point total is
Woolbright says his current U of M team is the best squad
he has coached. Last year, the Tigers were ranked in the top
25 heading into sectional competition, but failed to advance
to nationals because of a miserable shooting performance.
"The team this year has more experience a big
match doesn't bother them," Woolbright says. "There
is no intimidation factor with them. That is what sets us
Because Conference USA does not include rifle as a championship
sport, the Tigers are members of the Great American Rifle
Conference. Ole Miss, Kentucky, Xavier and Army are among
To get to the NCAA national championship this March, Memphis
must be one of the top seven teams at the sectional competition
in late February. A few individuals not on the qualifying
schools can advance, too.
The U of M team is relatively young the only senior
is Bartlett, Tenn., native Bobby LeBlanc. Junior J.B. Vaughan
and freshmen Kate Benjamin, Sarah Carr and Brian Phillips
round out the squad.
The team practices, holds matches and occupies office space
all as a gift-in-kind at RangeMaster.
Despite defeating former Olympians and the nation's other
top shooters at nationals last summer, Tidmore believes her
best chance at the Olympics will be in the 2008 games to be
held in Beijing.
Under-confident? Not exactly.
"I feel like I could hold my own if I do go to Athens
this year," she says. "I have only been shooting
for four years though I need to get more international
experience and more big matches under my belt and that will
help me shoot high scores more consistently. I am still not
at my peak."
A nursing major with a 3.8 GPA, Tidmore envisions graduating
and using her degree to support herself while she trains for
future Olympics. She is also taking aim at another career
which warrants precision she hopes one day to become
For the moment, Tidmore says she is content to spend four
hours a night in practice, taking aim at a miniscule bull's-eye.
"Practice makes perfect," Tidmore says. That, and
a little help from Marvin Gaye.