A unique program that offers McPherson College students opportunities to engage in outdoor adventures continues to add new initiatives that enhance the student experience and build leadership skills while embracing Kansas outdoors.
The Bulldog Adventures program was introduced to McPherson College students last academic year providing opportunities for students to participate in monthly off-campus adventures as well as on-campus outdoor activities. Offering ventures like hiking, float trips, a fishing derby, and lawn games, Bulldog Adventures utilizes outdoor spaces in and around campus. This year the program added several new initiatives including a Build Your Own Adventure option, Shotgun Sports team, and will introduce a leadership academy later this spring.
Through Build Your Own Adventure, students can check out adventure gear like backpacks, trekking poles, fishing gear, tents, and sleeping bags, and consult with Tony Helfrich, director of adventure programming, about where and how to plan their own adventures. Other gear like binoculars, hammocks, and disc golf sets are also available providing a wide variety of options. The gear, which was donated to the college through The Outdoor Fund by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, is offered at no expense to students.
“We have great participation in our monthly outings but also wanted to give our students the ability to explore Kansas on their own,” Helfrich said. “We also collaborate with other campus groups to plan custom adventures that appeal to their members. For many of our students, our adventures are their first exposure to this part of our state.”
The McPherson College Shotgun Sports team, another aspect of the outdoor adventure program, recently completed its inaugural season. The team competes in the USA College Clay Target League, Association of College Unions International Clay Targets, and Scholastic Clay Target Program. Shotgun Sports is a varsity level, co-ed team with scholarships available for student-athletes. Helfrich, a nationally certified shotgun coach and range safety officer, serves as head coach. His assistant coaches are Pete Brubaker and Chris Wallace.
“Shotgun sports is an activity that really evens the playing field for many students. Any person regardless of their athletic ability can participate in it,” Brubaker, who is also a nationally certified shotgun coach, said. “It provides all the beneficial lessons of team participation to a much wider group of McPherson College students. And, it is well documented that it is one of the safest sports for students. A national safety surveillance study a couple of years ago reported that of one million trigger pulls that year there were no injuries. No other sport can make that claim.”
This season, six student-athletes participated on the team, including Lola Hipp of Goodland, Kansas.
“I was so excited when Tony (Helfrich) reached out to me about being able to shoot trap at the collegiate level. It was something I never thought I would be able to do,” Hipp said. “Being able to compete in shotgun sports really brought McPherson College to the top of the list when choosing where to go, and it is one of the best choices I have made during my college career.”
Bulldog Adventures will also introduce a new leadership academy as part of its program later this spring. The adventures program is collaborating with the college’s Career Service Office to create leadership opportunities that combine outdoor adventure experiences with the eight career readiness competencies outlined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The goal of the leadership academy is to prepare students for professional life and provide a completion certificate that students can include in their résumés.
“Taking part in structured outdoor adventures requires a wide array of skills that easily crossover to a professional setting,” Helfrich said. “What sets our leadership program apart from others is that we’re going to be teaching these skills while participating in some really neat hands-on outings. It’s all about using the power of the great outdoors to bring students together and grow as young people while having fun leading experiences and learning skills that will benefit them for life.”
The adventure program was made possible through a generous donation from a supporter of the college who has a passion for the outdoors. Helfrich says he looks forward to continuing to grow the program and increase the number of students engaged in outdoor adventures. The program was recently featured on the podcast Uncovering Kansas. More information can also be found at https://www.mcpherson.edu/experiences/bulldog-adventures/.