Ed Etzel celebrates atop the podium after winning gold in the smallbore rifle prone 50-meter at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984 in Los Angeles.
Dr. Ed Etzel is a spin-doctor. He plays retro rock, blues and jazz on WWVU-FM radio’s Blind Alley and Time Warp shows in Morgantown, West Virginia.
He doesn’t have a snazzy radio moniker. He simply goes by Ed.
Etzel, now 64, is a laid-back soul who dabbles in lots of things, from gardening to guitar, water color painting, golf and amateur cooking. By day he’s a professor in the department of sport sciences at West Virginia University.
He was also at one time the best smallbore rifle shooter in the world.
On Saturday, the 1984 Olympic champion in the 50-meter rifle prone will be inducted into the U.S. International Shooting Hall of Fame along with David Kimes, Martin Gunnarsson and Don Haldeman. It’s the largest induction group since the first class in 1991.
Each of these four shooters served in the U.S. Army and as part of the Army Marksmanship Unit.
For Etzel, the honor is the next step in a long journey through the sport.
Etzel’s father, Ed Sr., got his two sons involved in hunting and fishing at a young age. Young Ed and his brother would take their .22 rifles and shoot trees and aluminum cans in their expansive backyard.
Ed took a shine to more advanced shooting while trying to earn merit badges in the Boy Scouts. He liked it so much that he left the scouts and gravitated to a rifle club for kids in New Haven, Connecticut.
“It’s something that I loved, and I had some great coaches along the way,” Etzel said.
One of his coaches was Joe McQuade, who was a retired Army colonel, and Joe’s son, Frank. Joe was up there in years, Etzel said.
“Put it this way, he served in the cavalry.”
Etzel hit a growth spurt before his peers. He was one of the tallest freshmen at New Haven High School in Connecticut. And by 10th grade he was one of the shortest.
He kept shooting and kept getting better. At age 17, after graduating high school, he set out for New York City to attend St. John’s University. By Christmas he was back home, as the Big Apple wasn’t for him.
“I came back home because it wasn’t a good fit,” Etzel said. “I think everybody was trying to find their way at the time. To go there was quite a stretch.”
He went to the University of New Haven for one semester and received a letter in the mail from a small school in Cookeville, Tennessee. The Tennessee Technological University offered Etzel a chance to be a part of its nationally-known shooting team. In the days before big-time recruiting — and long before shooting was an NCAA sport — Etzel took a leap of faith.
“I went there sight unseen,” he said. And what blind luck it was.
Etzel only went to TTU two and a half years, but he was twice a first-team All-American in smallbore rifle and helped the team to a pair of national collegiate rifle club championships.
He graduated from TTU in 1974 with his B.S. in biology and secondary education, and then he went to the Army. He was an active duty officer in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps during the Vietnam War, and he spent 10 years in the U.S. Army Reserves before he retired as a captain.
He attended graduate school at WVU to work on his master’s of physical education, and he became an assistant coach for the school’s shooting team. And he did everything.
“I was a grad assistant, I coached the team, I went to school and drove the team van,” Etzel said.
Oh, and he coached the Mountaineers to four national championships during the 1980s and amassed a 101-3 record with 30 WVU All-Americans. He oversaw the program as it transitioned into an NCAA sport, and he never finished worse than second at the NCAA championships.
Etzel stayed active in the sport himself and won the gold medal at the 1978 world championships and 1979 Pan American Games. The 11-time national champion missed the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, which boycotted the Moscow Games that year.
But he did make the 1984 team, where he made a near-perfect mark to win the gold medal. At the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984, Etzel tied an Olympic record by scoring a 599 out of a possible 600.
He continues to teach classes at West Virginia, and even jokes about his age when talking to his students.
“I like to tell my students that I graduated after the Civil War,” Etzel said.
Etzel is a member of the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. On Saturday, at the conclusion of the Biennial Coach Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he’ll be enshrined with some of the best in American history.
He attended this same ceremony two years ago for peers who got inducted. Now it’s his time to bask in the glow, but he said he’ll defer to those who’ve helped him along the way.
“It’s certainly an honor to be inducted,” Etzel said. “I’ve been distanced from the sport for a long time, so I had not thought about anything like this. It’s quite an honor.
Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 18 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.