By Michael Molinaro, USAMU PAOOctober 30, 2009
Fort Benning, Ga.- Two days a week, local kids descend on Fort Benning to learn from the best.
The Fort Benning Junior Rifle club was formed in the 1970s to help junior shooters improve in competitive shooting and get recognized by college coaches. It is organized and run by members of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit's International Rifle Team, whose roster includes Olympians and national champions.
"The kids are extremely motivated," said SSG Armando Ayala, the club's head coach. "These shooters are exposed to the USAMU work ethic and our accomplishments, and it really motivates them."
There are 52 kids in the club this year, Ayala said, almost double the number of shooters from last year. There are two training sessions a week during the school year, with a break during the winter holidays. Besides Ayala,
who attends every training session, two of his teammates rotate from week-to-week, allowing the students to work with the entire team.
"We teach shooters from beginners all the way to advance levels," Ayala said. "We essentially take them from never shooting to the U.S. National junior team-level."
The biggest reward for the juniors is that they have been able to take the skills and lessons learned and translate that into success elsewhere, Ayala said. The West Point Academy has recruited future officers through the academy's shooting team, and many former members made the military their career choice.
Coaches from Columbus State, University of Kentucky, Memphis University, Texas Christian University, Nebraska and others have offered scholarships to club members.
"This is a ton of fun," said Mackenzy Crawford, 14, of Columbus. "I started shooting when I was 6 and wanted to join the school's rifle team, so I needed to get practice and coaching here."
Crawford said he has improved tremendously in a short time. He is a lot more comfortable in his stance and has learned to sight his target properly. This is his first year in the club.
Club members compete in a number of matches year-round. The largest matches are sanctioned by USA Shooting, including the national championships and spring and fall selection matches for juniors. They travel to Camp Perry, Ohio, each summer to compete in the Smallbore National Championships and compete in regional postal and invitational matches
"To see our juniors develop into motivated young citizens and accomplish great things is very rewarding," Ayala said. "I know what they learn here they carry into all aspects of their lives because the examples set for them affect their lives. What we do here really inspires and motivates young people."