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Over 200 Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) Cadets took aim March 23-25 in hopes of being named one of the top marksmen in the nation at the 2023 JROTC National Air Rifle Championship held at Camp Perry, Ohio.
“It’s the Nationals. This is the highest of the high, unless you go to the Junior Olympics,” said Naqkara McKinney, a senior from Austin E. Lathrop High School in Alaska. “Only the top shooters will make it here and it’s a big deal for other JROTCs to have their kids sent here.”
All-services were represented, as JROTC programs from across the country (and even a team from Germany) showcased their top marksmen in the two classes of Three Position Air Rifle (3PAR): Sporter and Precision.
Sporter Air Rifle is more accessible to newer marksmen, the rifle is light-weight and shooters are not required to wear any specific uniform.
Precision Air Rifle is modeled after Olympic-style shooting and allows the use of specialized, more expensive target rifles and equipment. Specific uniforms are required.
Competing marksmen get 20 minutes and 20 pellets in each of the three shooting positions: standing, kneeling, and prone. The emphasis in air rifle is accuracy, not speed.
“One of the fastest growing sports is air rifle,” said Brad Donoho, the JROTC National Championship Match Director for the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). “It’s a sport where age, physical ability, sex…you name it, they’re not factors in what determines a good shooter. It’s a co-ed sport, here at the high school level, and…it’s the only co-ed sport in the NCAA.”
“One of the biggest benefits, regardless of your physical ability, what determines your talent, is your hard work on the range, how much time you put into it, and your dedication to the sport.”
In the lead up to this national event, over 6,000 all-service JROTC Cadets from around the country competed in numerous marksmanship events.
Teams and individual shooters were eventually eliminated until all that remained were the best 28 teams and 32 individuals in the Sporter Class and 17 teams and 88 individuals in the Precision Class. Each JROTC service program was equally represented.
Months of practice, patience, and hard-work all came down to this three day competition.
“They have to understand what its taken to get here and its not easy, no matter who you are,” said 1st Sgt. Phillip Maxim, the Army JROTC instructor and air rifle coach at Austin E. Lathrop High School.
“To be able to place in the top five is amazing. You’ve had to beat probably close to 1,000 people to get where you’re at right now. This is it, this is the big leagues.”
For many of these students, the commitment to the sport of air rifle has been months, if not years in the making.
Naqkara McKinney joined Army JROTC to be with friends and participate on the Drill Team. She noticed students practicing air rifle one day and began sitting in on the practices. McKinney is now in her second year with the air rifle team.
“You have to dedicate a lot of time to practice – It’s the majority of my morning,” said McKinney. “Our practices are an hour before school Monday through Friday and sometimes after school. The majority of my day feels like air rifle.”
All the time spent practicing, coupled with the pressures and expectations of a regular high schooler’s academic and social life melt away for McKinney the second she steps up to the target.
“I enjoy this more than normal sports at school, it’s more mental, it’s not just your body,” she said. “I enjoy being in my own space, in my own head, and not having to worry about anything else.”
Collin Robertson, a senior from Ansbach High School in Germany, joined Army JROTC because he enjoys having a positive influence on his peers and “helping them become better citizens and watching them become leaders.”
His reason for initially joining the air rifle team is slightly different.
“When I was in 8th grade, I had a crush on a girl on the marksmanship team,” he said with a laugh. “I just started shooting and it helped me make a lot of friends and it was something I could put my time into, and it was really good.”
“I’ve definitely had to learn perseverance and pushing through when things feel difficult. I’ve been shooting for five years now, and there’ve been times when I’ve felt frustrated with myself, but it really helps to know that I can just sit there and focus on the next shot.”
Early morning practices, hours spent on the range, and overcoming mental frustrations can be a challenge. But, according to 1st Sgt. Maxim, it’s because of those challenges he’s able to establish his team.
“It takes commitment…I usually start out the season with between 20-25 Cadets that want to be on the marksmanship team, but, waking up at five in the morning to make it to practices doesn’t work our for everybody,” he said.
“I can identify those that are really going to be committed to the team and stick with it. They show up to practice consistently and have a desire to be on the team and to do well.”
As graduating seniors, both McKinney and Robertson know this will be their last high school air rifle competition.
They both spent time reflecting on the sport that focused and matured their mindset.
“It really is a team sport. You have to think about more than yourself because there’s going to be times when you’re not happy with how you’re performing,” Robertson said. “You just have to put that away and make sure your team is doing what they need to be doing.”
McKinney is passionate about air rifle, but she’s also grateful for the safe space marksmanship and JROTC created.
“It’s created a family for me and a lot of friends,” McKinney said. “There are kids here who start out in their little shell and then they break out of that shell because of the environment we have. They’re experiencing what it’s like to have an actual family instead of being alone.”
“I definitely think I’ve been set up for success to go and take the steps that I want to take, especially after graduating.”
Though Maj. Gen. Antonio Munera, the Commanding General of U.S. Army Cadet Command, experienced this event for the first time, he wasn’t surprised by the perseverance and attentiveness the students were giving to the sport.
“You get the power of Junior ROTC that just produces Cadets that are of character and discipline and who think about selfless service and giving to others – Cadets who are propensed to serve,” Munera said. “When I say they’re propensed to serve it doesn’t necessarily mean in the military, but it is a propensity to serve others in their community.”
“When you do these extracurricular activities like air rifle and see the discipline and the practice it takes, the skills they learn, the hard work it takes to get ahead, I see that we’re really producing people that our nation is looking for.”
JROTC is one of the largest character development and citizenship programs for youth in the world, currently operating in over 1,700 high schools. JROTC aims to motivate students to be better citizens and develop a sense of personal responsibility as they move throughout the different stages of life.
2023 JROTC National Air Rifle Championship Results
Precision Team Championship
1st: Granbury High School, Marine Corps JROTC
2nd: East Coweta High School, Marine Corps JROTC
3rd: Camden County High School, Navy JROTC
Sporter Team Championship
1st: Nation Ford High School, Marine Corps JROTC
2nd: Zion Benton High School, Navy JROTC
3rd: Pascagoula High School, Navy JROTC
Top Precision Team by Service
Army JROTC: Fountain Fort Carson High School
Marine Corps JROTC: Granbury High School
Navy JROTC: Camden County High School
Air Force: Cherokee High School
Top Sporter Team by Service
Army JROTC: North Brunswick High School
Marine Corps JROTC: Nation Ford High School
Navy JROTC: Zion Benton High School
Air Force JROTC: Clover High School
Precision Individual Championship
1st: Danjela DeJesus, Camden County High School
2nd: Ashton Arlington, Granbury High School
3rd: Liv Lusky, Lumpkin County High School
Sporter Individual Championship
1st: Samantha Zermeno, Nation Ford High School
2nd: Christopher Mardones, Patuxent High School
3rd: Samuel Nelson, Pascagoula High School
For a complete list of the results visit the CMP website: https://thecmp.org/youth/jrotc/
About Army ROTC
Army ROTC is one of the best leadership courses in the country and is part of your college curriculum. Through classes and field training, Army ROTC provides you with the tools to become an Army Officer without interfering with your other classes. ROTC also provides you with discipline and money for tuition while enhancing your college experience.
Army ROTC offers pathways to becoming an Army Officer for high school students, current active duty Soldiers, and for current National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers through the Simultaneous Membership Program.
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