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A straight-shooter’s tale

Photo by: Doug Coombe
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Published 9/12/2007

It was 1946, World War II had just come to a close, and firearms didn't quite have the onus they do today: Everyone in Roberta Gubbins' neighborhood had a BB gun. Children would dart behind trees, playing cowboys 'n' Indians and war, and Gubbins wanted a gun of her own.

"My dad wouldn't let me have a BB gun," says Gubbins, the 71-year-old editor of the Ingham County Legal News. "Said they were dangerous; said they'd put your eye out.

"Instead, he gave me a .22-caliber rifle. Said that if I was going to learn how to shoot, I was going to learn how to shoot. Turned out that I was pretty good at it."

Gubbins says she competed in riflery all through high school, making national records and earning accolades. When she got to the University of Michigan in the mid-'50s, she joined the women's rifle club.

"The women's club never went anyplace," she says. "We had postal matches — our scores were mailed back and forth between schools — never face to face."

So Gubbins shot for the men's rifle team, where she was accepted by her coaches and teammates. ("We'd go to rifle ranges, and of course they wouldn't have bathrooms for ladies," she says. "So the guys would guard the doors, and I'd just use the john. It's all the same! What difference does it make?")

This carried on for about two years, she says, until the Big Ten conferred one summer and informed her that she could no longer shoot on the men's rifle team. The grounds? Apparently, the rule book said "he" — not "she."

Gubbins' coach was furious, and made sure her story gained widespread publicity. She says that she even received a letter from a G.I. in Japan who read it in Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper.

"It was kind of a perfect storm — at a time when women were beginning to speak out," she says. "We've been working in the factories, and then the men come home and tell us to go back into the kitchen. So the women say, 'I don't think so.'"

Articles were published for months, she says, and caused such a furor that the Big Ten finally conceded and allowed her back on the team.

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