On a blustery spring day in Fairfax, Va., six members of one of college sports' greatest dynasties stroll unnoticed through the parking lot at the Izaak Walton Gun Club. They shoot the place up, co-opt the clubhouse couches for a few hours and then leave with an inelegant but proud strut—a bunch of Yosemite Sams after a showdown with Dally Duck.
Back on campus, at nearby George Mason University, the group tends to keep together, padding quietly over the school's hillocks and through its tangled coppices. They are members of one of the nation's winningest varsity teams, with a streak of nine consecutive collegiate national trap and skeet championships. Still, "about 90 percent of the campus doesn't even know we exist," says Dave Serdynski, a senior who once stood before his English class and drew a diagram of a trapshooting field on the blackboard. He was trying to explain his-sport which his classmates had never heard of, and its connection to the athletic department.
And though the department's trap and skeet brochure has not been updated since 1989—it mentions only the program's first three championships and profiles shooters who have long since graduated—the school will indeed be gunning for its 10th straight title next week in San Antonio. If the team wins again, George Mason will close out a decade of dominance launched by its former coach, John Linn, who died of a heart attack in June 1992. But a victory next week may also mark the end of an era for George Mason, which has brought in only one top shooter since Linn's death and will graduate four of its best in May.
"It's really important for us to win this last one for Coach Linn," says senior Kelly Doll, one of the two women on the George Mason team and a member of the U.S. junior Olympic team. "For them to win it again next year would be a miracle."
On the far range at Izaak Walton, five George Mason shooters are spread out along a curved concrete sidewalk. Behind them stands Kelly Doll's father, Charlie, who took coach the year Linn died Charlie, 56, holds a controller that releases clay targets from a station 16 yards in front of the shooter in the center of the sidewalk. When the shooter on the far left yells, "Pull!", Charlie presses a button that sends a target, or bird, sailing toward a distant wall of evergreens at approximately 60 miles per hour. The shooter has about 1� seconds in which to locate the target and fire at it with a 12-gauge shotgun. Then it's the next shooter's turn, and so on down the line. The event is called the American trap, but when these shooters get a good rhythm going, you would swear you were listening to a rumba.
The windy conditions are no help today, and the team members' scores are lower than their nearly perfect averages. "I'm nervous," says Lance Watkins, a senior. "I don't want to be a part of the team that loses the streak."
Nevertheless, an air of levity at the practice has replaced the clouds of grief and bitterness that persisted through the two seasons following Linn's death. Charlie Doll, a former Pennsylvania state trap-shooting champion who applied for the coaching position at the urging of some of the shooters, was named coach in the fall of 1992. But his transition was turbulent; arguments broke out among team members and with Doll over the way the program was to be run. "My dad's a different type of coach than Coach Linn," Kelly Doll says. "He's more serious and businesslike, and that was hard to adjust to. It was even hard for me, and I'm used to the way he is."
Adding to the strife was the fact that Doll lives 90 miles away in Hanover, Pa., where he owns a gun shop, and could be at George Mason only one day a week. By early 1993, the situation had worsened to such an extent that the school had a psychologist meet with the team twice in two weeks and several times with individual members.
"They just couldn't get over what they had with Coach Linn," says Charlie Doll. "He was there every day, and they spent all of their time with him. It really took a toll on them.
"I told them, 'I'm not Coach Linn, and I can't be here every day, which is a disadvantage. But this is the way things are.' "