Air rifle Day 2
Cadets taking part in the Army JROTC Air Rifle Championships' precision individual final all collect their thoughts just prior to the competition beginning Feb. 16, 2013, in Anniston, Ala.

ANNISTON, Ala. -- In a sport that demands patience, JROTC programs from Texas and Missouri had to wait until Monday to finally claim Army national air rifle crowns.

Killeen (Texas) High School and Ozark (Mo.) High School won the sporter and precisions titles, respectively.

Schools across the country competed Friday and Saturday in Anniston and Camp Perry, Ohio. Competition at a third site in Salt Lake City, debuting this year to offset travel costs for programs in the western half of the country, wrapped up Monday.

Still, ceremonies were held Saturday to recognize the top teams and individual shooters at this weekend's meet. But the leaders to that point headed home from Anniston and Camp Perry with a strong feeling of optimism.

And uncertainty.

"I'm confident we finished strong," said retired Lt. Col. John Stanley, Killeen's coach. "If another team beats us, I'll be the first to shake their hand. … If they beat our team, they earned it."

A western program would have had to beat the 4,381 points of a possible 4,800 posted by Killeen, which took third a year ago, over two days of shooting in Anniston. Ozark established the precision team mark at 4,646.

Both scores were about 20 points higher than those posted in 2011 by the championship squads in each of their divisions.

In individual competition, all four of Ozark's precision shooters finished in the top eight, with junior Benjamin Estes claiming the top spot. Killeen's Todd Mazur led all sporter competitors.

The top seven sporter and top five precision teams, as well as the top eight at-large individual Cadets in the sporter class and top five at-large in precision, advance to compete in the all-services JROTC National Air Rifle Championships March 21-23 in Anniston.

A jubilant Estes was congratulated by a number of friends and on-lookers with hugs and handshakes after his victory in the final individual shoot-off.

"It's the best feeling in the world," he said afterward. "All my hard work has paid off."

Despite the personal success, Estes said he's more satisfied with his team's performance.

"It's not just me, but all of us get a gold medal," he said.

Cadets from Simon Sanchez traveled farther than any other team to contend. They came almost 7,800 miles and across eight time zones from Guam.

Arriving three days before the meet gave team members time to adjust physically and mentally. However, being rested and eager to compete didn't make the transition completely smooth.

"The first-timers were shaky on the practice Thursday," said Rachelle Columbino, a senior and the team's captain. "They were able to get used to it."

Competing against Army JROTC's best, Columbino, taking part in her third and final national competition, said succeeding demands considerable focus and not letting the talent of other shooters become intimidating. Simon Sanchez finished 24th of 43 teams at 4,051 points, with Columbino's 1,022 points leading the way among the team's members.

"Win or lose, we got to experience this with the other teams," she said. "We're not the best, but we do our best."

Page last updated Sat February 16th, 2013 at 00:00