ANNISTON, Ala. -- It was a mistake. We all make them, and hopefully we learn from them. But this could be an expensive lesson.

As the 2012 Army Junior ROTC Air Rifle Championship got underway at the Civilian Marksmanship Program ranges in Anniston, Ala., Friday morning, Tessa Howald, a member of the Ozark High School Precision Air Rifle team and a junior Olympic hopeful, made a mistake.

While she was loading her weapon between shots, her rifle expelled air, shooting the pellet into the backstop. In such situations the shooter is supposed to acknowledge the error, and is then assigned a zero for that round.

While it didn't register on the automatic scoring system, and no one would know, Howald quickly raised her hand to acknowledge the error and accept the zero for that round. At that point of the competition, which is held simultaneously in Anniston and in Camp Perry, Ohio, involving 272 competitors, she was in the top 20 for the precision division.

Her coaches, retired 1st Sgt. Terry Thompson and his wife Brenda, said they have a philosophy.
"We set one goal--one shot," Brenda explained. "The rest will take care of itself. Coach doesn't want the students to focus on, or look at, overall scores."

And it is a philosophy that seemed to serve Howald well.

Out of the 49 precision shooters at Anniston, Howald was sitting in ninth place after Friday's competition with an aggregate score of 576-37. Even with the zero score for the missed round.
Last year Ozark finished second to Daleville in the Army-level competition but beat them at the JROTC All Services National Air Rifle Championships.

The competition consists of two divisions: sporter and precision. There are three positions from which competitors must fire: prone, standing and kneeling. They have twenty rounds to fire from each position with a time limit of 30 minutes for prone and kneeling and 40 minutes for standing, with a five minute change-over between each position.

Even though it is an air rifle, hitting the center of the targets consistently isn't as easy as it looks. Stance, position, breathing, focusing, trigger pull and concentration are all techniques that effect scoring and make the difference between a great score and a good one.

At the half-way point of the event, the top spot in the precision division belonged to Kevin Cruz from Del Valle High School in Texas with an aggregate score of 585-33. The fact that he scored a perfect 200 in the prone position helped even out his 192-7 in the standing position and his 193-7 in the kneeling position.

Mercedes Rohih', from Patch High School in Germany, owned second place with 584-38 and Marissa Furney from Columbus High School in Georgia was third with 580-37. This is Rohih's third year in the competition but for the rest of her team, it's their first.

Makennon Doran, Howald's team mate from Ozark High School, slid into fourth, with 579-31, just ahead of Jasmine Juarez, a teammate of Cruz's, who scored 579-29 for the first day.

The sporter division also completed its first round of competition Friday in two different rotations. Visitors to the first rotation were witness to freshman Alyssa Bruno's 2nd place finish right behind McKensey Heath, who shoots for Wythe County Technology Center in Virginia.

But once the second rotation finished shooting and everyone's scores were posted together--98 shooters in all--the lead spot belonged to Tyler Rico of Flowing Wells High School in Arizona with a score of 562-23.

He battled back and forth with Charles Hollis from Rayville High School Alabama and Katlyn Bass of Daleville High School in Alabama before ending all doubt with scores of 195-12 for the prone, 179-5 for standing and 188-6 for kneeling positions.

Rico's coach and team mates sat on the bleachers and watched the scoreboard as it climbed higher after each shot. They tracked his scores and had a good idea of his position before the results for the day were tallied.

Hollis locked in second place with 561-21 while Bass claimed third with a score of 552-21.
The next round of competition takes place Saturday. The final scores will be averaged to see which team is best, and which individual rises to the top.