“What I’m doing now is I’m doing a double follow-through and placement,” said 14-year-old Annabelle Stanec, who won the NRA 3-Position Air Gun Championship at West Mesa High School in Alburquerque, New Mexico on May 24. “I look off into space, then I relax and see where I really am lined up to the bull.”
There were other factors contributing to Stanec’s victory besides natural point of aim, but that particular attention to detail might have been the key that ultimately put her in first place in the premier air-rifle competition that invited the top 100 NRA qualifiers to the shooting showdown in the Land of Enchantment. The 5-foot-6 rising prep sophomore fired a total, including a final round 102.2 in the standing position, of 1,340.4 points.
“I’m hoping to get a college scholarship for rifle,” said Stanec, who represented the Ashland (Ohio) Eagles Rifle Team and attends Highland High School of Medina, Ohio. “And I’d like to win the National Junior Olympics.”
Stanec paced an Eagles squad that also took the precision team title with a two-day total of 4,885.5 points. Her champion teammates included Josh Kovach, Christina Holden and Antonio Remedios.
“A lot of our shooters have earned scholarships like to the Air Force Academy, Ole Miss, the Coast Guard Academy, the University of Kentucky, Ohio State and the University of Akron,” said Stanley Nelsen, who said he has been the Eagles’ coach for about 25 years and was a cryptologic equipment repairman during his time in the Army from 1966 to 1970. “One of the strengths of our program is that we have multiple certified instructors.”
Retired COL Sean Mulcahy, who was a communications officer by military occupational specialty during a 30-year, active-duty career, coached the Nation Ford (Fort Mill, S.C.) High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC sporter rifle team in the New Mexico meet.
The Falcons amassed 4,599.7 points to earn the national title. The winning quartet included Hayden Briggs, Hunter Ferguson, Levi Carlson and Morgan Tench.
“We also teach them about sports psychology, do some relaxation methods before they shoot,” Mulcahy said. “Two graduated. I’m rebuilding the team. But I had a lot of depth on the team. I had 20 (shooters) in the program. We’ll see.”
Briggs, who was a Junior ROTC cadet sergeant major, paced Nation Ford with an individual third-place score of 1,251.7. Sporter air rifles, which run about $600 each, lack the so-called fancy bells and whistles of their precision counterparts, about $2,500 and up a copy.
In addition to its rifle teams, Nation Ford’s Junior ROTC program has a color guard, unarmed and armed drill teams, and orienteering, physical training and defensive shooting teams.
Brendaya Grigsby, who competed for the César Chávez High School Army Junior ROTC program out of Phoenix, was the individual sporter champion at the NRA 3-Position Championship. She recorded a total score of 1,256.1 points.
Teams didn’t have to wind up as winners for the trip to Albuquerque to be worthwhile. Retired LTC Scott Casey guided his Marine Corps Junior ROTC contingent from Granbury (Texas) High School to a seventh-place finish in the precision division.
“It was a new experience for us,” said Casey, a former artillery officer. “We’d never been there (in Albuquerque) before … a couple of kids had been to Colorado, but Albuquerque was a new place for us. They were excited to be there. Our kids have been steadily climbing up the ladder with their performances. It takes a kid about a year, a year and a half when they focus to where they are competitive. It takes a lot of dedication.”
Cody Bogle, a senior-to-be, has been Granbury’s best shooter.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but never had a chance to do until I came to Granbury,” said the 16-year-old cadet first lieutenant. “It’s given me something to focus on. But sometimes, it’s hard to be practicing so much, especially in the summer. A lot of the other kids are playing around, not really doing anything, and we’re practicing all the time.”
There are those that have the misconception that high school Junior ROTC programs are solely for those students who will be volunteering for military service after graduation. Bogle is an example of that not being the case.
“I’ve thought about joining the military, but I don’t think I’m going to,” he said. “But JROTC and air-rifle shooting, even if you don’t plan on joining the military, is good for discipline, for getting your moral bearings, and for making you a better person overall.”
The Albuquerque air rifle community was honored to be able to hold the NRA meet on its home turf. “Albuquerque was chosen because there are a lot of people here who care about air gun competitions, and there are a lot of good volunteers here,” Damian Allen, NRA air gun coordinator said during the national match. “And they have MEGAlink targets here. They’re good at running a match, too.”
MEGAlink, an electronic system, records shots via audio receivers that note where the air-rifle pellets hit the target and then transmits that hit to computers. The computers record the score and displays them on large monitors that can be viewed by the fans in the bleachers.
“It triangulates each shot by sound (with microphones on the 42-target, 10-meter range at WMHS), then transmits the signal to electronic scoring boards for view by spectators,” retired Cmdr. Mike Beno, the Navy Junior ROTC instructor at Albuquerque’s Manzano High School, said.
Beno’s cadets took fifth in precision at the meet. Albuquerque’s Eldorado High School Marine Junior ROTC, headed by retired Maj. Jim Koerber, placed sixth.
The best New Mexico precision shooter was Eldorado’s Cadet Lance Cpl. Haley Castillo, who was seventh. The host state’s top sporter contestant was Rio Rancho High School Marine Junior ROTC Cadet Capt. Matthew Warren, who was fourth.
The leadership of retired Marine Corps MAJ Bill Barker has been crucial to the establishment of a strong air-rifle program in Albuquerque. Barker recently attained the milestone of 50 years in uniform, a time span that started with his active-duty enlistment in 1965, followed by his stints as the Junior ROTC instructor at Albuquerque’s Eldorado and La Cueva high schools and then his current assignment as the head of all of the Albuquerque Public Schools’ high school Junior ROTC and middle school Leadership programs.
“A match like this showcases our city,” Barker said.
Harold Smith is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. Currently, he is the leadership instructor at Albuquerque’s Hoover Middle School.