“Train like champions every day. Win with humility and lose with grace.” This is the motto that plays out often among members of the National Training Center (NTC) Junior Club. As evidenced by a match-best 27 competitors they had shooting at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships (NJOSC) in April, the mix of dedicated training, supportive parents, coaching and great kids is paying off.
Mired in the hallowed world-class shooting range on location at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, is this USA Shooting rising gem. Their prominence as a club has never been higher any time during its 33-year existence. The program was the vision of Jim Shaver and Charlie Reed with Bud Kucera serving an important lynchpin for the group all along as well. The club has grown from 27 kids in 2007 to 84 now.
The program’s monumental rise began in 2014, coincidentally right around the same time electronic targets were installed at USA Shooting headquarters. That year, club member Abby Votava was crowned a Junior Olympic Champion in Air Rifle and top national results have poured in ever since. The following year, pistol shooter Carson Saabye became the youngest athlete ever to earn USA Shooting National Team status after she earned a bronze medal at the National Championships. Will Anti, who will be a junior at West Virginia University next year, followed with a Junior Olympic title in Air Rifle that same year. Will Shaner made it three straight top podiums at NJOSC with victories in both Air and Prone Rifle in 2016. The club ended 2016 with another highlight at the Winter Air Gun Championships following a Women’s Air Rifle podium sweep on day one that included Macey Way (gold), Ruby Gomes (silver) and Emily Stith (bronze).
Even before Junior Olympic invites were announced, the club had international success to begin 2017. Shaner earned back-to-back gold medals once again at the Meyton Cup in Austria. At the same competition, Stith put forth a tremendous effort as well with a world-class Air Rifle score of 421.4 while also garnering a silver medal in open competition.
The club employs a team-first philosophy and a personal best is always the score to beat. A survey of club leadership, parents and athletes, explains how the club is earning its recent level of achievement and it centers around coaching.
“Lots of credit goes to a larger cadre of experienced and dedicated coaches,” Shaver says. “A couple of years ago, a great group of coaches came out of several Level 1 coaching schools held here at the OTC. Not only more coaches on the line helped, but that combined with new approaches to training structure, more emphasis on competitive shooting, a great group of very supportive parents and kids who make shooting their sport, and it all just snowballed.”
As the coaching and competitiveness of the club has improved, so too has its attractiveness to youth shooters across the nation. The draw of both potential and competition is a powerful elixir and the club is now gaining kids across the country. Stith, Gomes and 2017 JO Three-Position Rifle champion Jared Desrosiers, are all club transplants who have certainly raised the level of success. Their families uprooted their households for the opportunity to train side-by-side with some of the best junior shooters in the country.
“This club has a certain power to it,” said Gomes’ mother Amber Andreozzi. “It’s a magic mix of inspiration and motivation. The kids put their whole hearts into the sport and it shows both in their dedication and their success. Each contributes to the magic of this place and I’m glad my family got to know them all and be part of such an amazing group of junior athletes and coaches.”
“The club creates a nurturing atmosphere that allows kids to thrive,” added Bill Vogrin, whose son Ben shoots rifle at the club and will shoot at the University of Alabama at Birmingham next year. “They put no pressure on the kids to be perfect. Instead, the kids are taught the fundamentals and shown the proper techniques and then allowed to develop at their own pace with coaches who naturally fit their personalities. They also encourage healthy parental involvement and provide support when necessary. If our son never becomes an elite shooter, he still has benefited a great deal from joining the club and learning the discipline and focus required in shooting.”
Asked what outsiders might think about the NTC club success, Shaver responded:
“Dear outsider, I’m thinking you define success as the number of kids we have in the club consistently posting quality scores for juniors at the state, national and international-level events,” Shaver remarks. “Don’t look at us and think ‘Well, you’re are at the OTC—I would expect you to be successful.’ The club has been at the OTC for roughly 30 years, and didn’t come anywhere near this level of success. Our success is due to the OTC environment somewhat, but the accolades as a very successful club didn’t come until after we had an experienced and energetic group of coaches with a group of hard working kids and involved parents, with everyone making a commitment to getting kids on the podium. Get that going—and you can be successful too.”
Photos by USA Shooting