Zach Strohl heads to the University of Akron rifle team

Zach Strohl with his first place medal from a national match in Kentucky.
Zach Strohl with his first place medal from a national match in Kentucky.

Nobody’s perfect. But if you’re participating in a small board or air rifle competition, you’d better be awfully close. It’s a very competitive sport in which one bad shot can cost you a win, or at least a high place in the standings.

It’s a sport that takes a steady hand, a keen eye and nerves of steel. More than anything else, it takes the proper mental attitude and the ability to focus on one thing - the target.

For Boyertown High senior Zach Strohl, he has all of these traits and more. In a relatively short time he has progressed quickly in the sport and can now be considered one of the top air and small board rifle shooters in the state.

“I love the sport,” said Strohl. “I love the people in the sport and I love the fact that it’s so hard. I like hunting and fishing so the sport seemed like a good fit for me.”He has been shooting for eight years, but has only been competing in small board for three years and air rifle for five months. It didn’t take him long to get the hang of it. In 2011 he won a national event in small board in the standing position.


He got interested ind shooting eight years ago when he was attending Fun Days at Boyertown Park. The Boyertown Rod and Gun Club had a shooting stand there so Zach decided to give it a try.

He did well enough that Darrel Cross, the head of the BB gun team at the gun club asked Zach to join the team. He competed for five years with the Boyertown Rod and Gun Club.

Then in 2008 eight the team went to nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky where he finished first in the standing position. At that point Strohl knew he was good enough to get serious about the sport.

So he went looking for a club team and found the North End Rod & Gun Club in New Tripoli, under coach Ernie Gestl.

“Coach Gestl really helped me hone my skills,” said Strohl. I have to give a lot of the credit for my success to him.”

When it came to finding a college, he decided he wanted to find one with a very good rifle team. He wanted to find one in which he “wasn’t the top shooter on the team.”

His number one choice, and nothing else was close, was the University Akron. Their rifle team is ranked 16th in the nation and was the closest quality team he could find.

The problem was that the coach at Akron never heard of Zach. National events are where a shooter gets noticed, but they are very expensive. Zach’s family couldn’t afford the time or the money to attend enough national events to get Zach noticed.

Akron was where he wanted to be so he decided to be a little pro-active. He emailed and called the coach at least twice a week. He sent him the results from every match he competed.

Then while at a national event in Ohio last year, he stopped at the University of Akron and visited the coach. After that he continued to email the coach until he finally got the call. Coach Newt Engle offered him a spot on the team.

It’s that kind of determination that has served Strohl well in a sport that takes more mental than physical skills to succeed.

Your typical match will have each competitor shooting at 60 targets. The competition is so tough that one bad shot can cost you the match. That’s a lot of pressure on any competitor. You have the have the right mental make-up to do well in this sport.

“It can be very stressful,” said Strohl. “You have to be able to focus on nothing but the target. We go through a lot of mental training which is probably more important than the physical training.”

He recently discovered a small mental exercise that helps him at every match. While he’s shooting, he hears the tune ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’ in his head.

“I know it sounds really weird, but for some reason that really helps calms me down.

“It’s a lot of repitition and mental training. You can’t go in with a negative attitude. You have to be positive and believe that you are better than all of the rest of the shooters.”

When I’m talking with the other shooters, I’m not cocky at all. But when I’m in my own head, I’m very cocky.”

To help himself out, he writes in a diary three or four times a week. In there he writes what he did well and what he did poorly at any match. He also constantly writes down his short and long term goals. Zach is very goal-oriented person.His next goal is to be an All-American at the University of Akron. But his ultimate goal is to be a member of the U.S. Olympic rifle team. He believes this is a very attainable goal.

He’s got the work ethic to reach his goals. He practices every day, as soon as he finishes his school work. Despite his success in the sport, he believes school work comes first. In fact, he’s an honor roll student at BASH. That means he doesn’t have a lot of time to waste. Between school and shooting, it takes up about all of his time.

Despite his time constraints, Zach did find time to play three years on the BASH golf team where he made the PAC-10 All-Academic team. He was also a member of the jazz band at school, but he gave that up because shooting and school work was taking up all of his time.

But that’s the dedication he has applied to his sport. It’s that dedication that has vaulted him to be one of the top shooters in Pennsylvania, but he gives much of the credit to others.

“I’d like to thanks guys like Darrel Cross, Keith Davis, Ernie Gestl, Jeff Derr, Bill Burkert and Tom Fister,” said Strohl. “These are people who have helped me so much in my shooting. My family and friends have all been so supportive, especially my parents (Keven and Carol), who have driven me all over to get me to the matches. They have sacrificed a lot for me.”

Next for Zach is the Junior Olympic Championships April 14 and 15. He will take part in that competition, with the hopes that some day he will be competing for his country on the Olympic team. More than likely, he won’t stop until he gets there.