By Kelcey Norris
Youngstown State University students can learn the proper way of handling firearms safely and efficiently through a marksmanship course offered by the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Science.
The marksmanship course is instructed by YSU Police Chief Shawn Varso, who is a law enforcement firearms instructor.
“I’m used to teaching cadets, and [here] it’s a different way of teaching. … You can actually teach an entry-level person with no experience,” he said. “You can get good skills and good habits into them early on.”
Varso said students are taught primarily to use a weapon safely, which includes how to hold it and aim it away from bystanders.
“One of my goals in this class is to increase their proficiency in marksmanship,” he said. “I want them to take away an interest tempered with safety. If you are going to be interested in firearms, take precautions.”
Varso said the skills taught in the course will translate directly into the varying career paths students may take.
“With a lot of professions out there, you need to have some sort of grounding with firearms. Whether it be in education as a schoolteacher or in a business setting or in retail,” he said. “If you ever have a student bring in a gun, how are you going to make sure you transport that gun safely somewhere?”
The students taking the course meet at the shooting range in the basement of Beeghly Center.
“I took the marksmanship class when I was a student … in the early ‘90s,” Varso said. “We’re going back more than twenty years now that the class has been in existence.”
Students participating in the class range from beginners to experienced firearm users, and practice leads to improved skill throughout the course, according to Varso.
“Over the years I’ve found that since we keep their targets as they’re going through the whole semester, there’s a vast improvement on a person’s accuracy,” he said “I want them to improve in their concentration and relaxation.”
Carrington Lisser, a fifth-year art education major, said taking the course has given her new confidence when operating firearms.
“I’d recommend everyone take this class because it gives you a better understanding of how guns work,” Lisser said. “You learn the proper techniques and safety instructions with using guns. Plus, you get to have fun with it.”
She said having an understanding of firearm safety is one of the first lessons she learned from the course.
“When you walk with the gun, always point it down to make sure that you’re not pointing it at anyone else in case it goes off,” Lisser said. “When you place it down, you always face it towards the target and away from everybody else.”
Sara Michaliszyn, associate professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Science, said the course is usually a popular choice for students.
“Marksmanship does fill up quickly. … It typically will have one or two on the waitlist,” she said. “The student feedback from those who take it, love it.”
The university offers 32 physical activity classes each semester, and according to Michaliszyn, more than 1,500 students enrolled in these courses in 2019. Yoga and boxing are the two most popular courses.
“People who allow time to engage in physical activity feel better, have better health, feel better mentally and get better grades,” she said. “There is a ton of research demonstrating the positive effects of engaging in movement-based activities and health and wellness.”
Michaliszyn said there are many benefits to taking these courses in the program.
“Teaching students how to be physically active or providing them ways to engage in physical activity can help students throughout the semester with anxiety, learning, improved focus and overall health,” she said.