ANNISTON, Ala. -- Once upon a time the $50 pellet rifle was great for plinking at cans on a fence row. But when a person enters the world of air rifle marksmanship, those days are gone.
To enter into competitions today, a participant must have a reliable rifle, a stand to rest the barrel on with a place to put the box of pellets, a kneeling roll, a shooting mat to lie on, and other accessories. And, the participant must be willing to travel--just a little.

For most of the teams who participated Friday and Saturday in the 2012 Army Junior ROTC Air Rifle Championships in Anniston, Ala., the basic equipment was given to them. And like most high school programs, beyond that they have to provide for themselves.

And how do they do that?

The answer, from many of the coaches at this year's competition, seems to be strict budgeting, fundraising and a lot of diplomacy.

"It's an expensive sport but we overcome it with strict budgeting and sometimes the community helps out," said Mary Ellen Eaton, the range coordinator and chief instructor for the Georgia Military College Athletic Department. She oversees the entire air rifle program at Georgia Military Academy.

Eaton, who received her National Rifle Association certification more than 20 years ago, said the program could do fundraisers but don't. With so much else going on she prefers to try to make the program work by budgeting the money she receives under the athletic department. She said it covers the basics.

"This way the kids don't have to provide anything," she added.

But for those schools that don't have a budget under the school's athletic department, budgeting isn't the only answer.

Retired Maj. Robert Dewitt, the senior Army Junior ROTC instructor at Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Ariz., and his team rely on the hard work of the students and the grant applications he fills out each year.

"Yes, it is expensive--it was $3,000 just for airfare here. We flew here since we can't drive because the kids would miss too much school," he explained. "The kids did a variety of fundraising projects so they could have the money for the trip. And we got a nice NRA grant," he added. "The NRA is buying us all new equipment next year."

Although the Junior ROTC program bought the rifles and provide the basic equipment, Dewitt will use the grant money to upgrade. In this way, he is building his program for the future.

But when fundraising and grant writing doesn't work, students who really want to compete earn the equipment money the old fashion way--they got extra jobs. With the time they spend in Junior ROTC programs, school work, home life and any other extracurricular activities taking on an extra job required time management, organization and discipline.

Retired First Sgt. Terry Thompson, the Army Junior ROTC instructor at Ozark High School in Ozark Mo., was asked by his students if he would coach a precision team if they bought the equipment themselves. He told them, "If you do your part, I'll do mine and coach you."

"We applied for an NRA grant, but we didn't get it. That is why the kids did extra work to get the money for their own equipment," Brenda Thompson, Terry's wife, explained. Brenda helps Terry with the program. "Neither the program, nor the school paid for any of it. The students worked jobs and raised money for the rifles, clothing and anything else they needed---no fund raisers," she added. A good precision rifle can be more than $2,000 and another $500 for clothes and other stuff.
"This is the first year for our precision program. But we made that decision because it gave the kids more opportunity at scholarships."

While Ozark, Mo., isn't just around the corner from Anniston, at least the Ozark team didn't have to travel as far as the team from Patch High School--a DOD school in Germany.

According to retired Sgt. 1st Class Raul Pinon, the Patch High School Junior ROTC instructor, it took more than $9,000 for the team to get here.

This is the first year for Pinon to be an Army instructor with this program. He took over after 1st Sgt. Jack Wayne retired last year.

"We raise funds for the money," he explained. "And the Cadets raised money bagging groceries in the commissary. We also get help from different organizations in exchange for volunteer services."
And like all the teams, they have to travel--around their area--to compete against other schools. So part of the expense that each school must plan for is the travel they must make to the different competitions.

"In Germany we have an East and West conference so we have to travel two to three hours to get to the different competitions sites."

But when all else fails, retired Maj. Randy Matney, the senior Army instructor at Wythe County Tech Center in Virginia, said he relies on a skill he learned in the Army.

"I learned diplomacy (on active duty) and out here you can use that skill. Especially with civic and veterans organizations," he explained. What Matney calls diplomacy others may call "public relations."

He goes to meetings of civic and veterans' organizations, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion--any place where his smiling face would be recognized and inroads can be made.

"When the VFW needs volunteers to put flags on veterans' graves on Veterans Day, or if they need a color guard for something, my Junior ROTC Cadets volunteer to do it," he said.

In turn, those organizations help his programs with anything for which they don't have money.

"At the annual brigade (meeting), everyone recommended setting money aside for competitions, and the commander agreed and did it," he explained. "So the brigade covered the transportation and hotels and they arranged for some of the meals to be covered too."

So if all else fails, Matney said, "use diplomacy and a smile--I think it gets you more places."