BROOKSVILLE — Historic Camp Perry is where it’s at. Located near Clinton, Ohio, the National Guard training facility is where the nation’s top shooters go to compete.
Next week, some of Hernando County’s top shooters compete there in the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s air rifle national competitions. The Central High School Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps(NJROTC) Air Rifle Team was invited to participate in the national JROTC 3 PAR Matches, June 21-23.
"We are all extremely excited," said Team Capt. Melissa Geiger, Central’s NJROTC program commanding officer. "We have never made it that far before. It’s a huge deal for us."
Team members include Geiger, Leanne Wallace, Brent Howard and Bailey Birchler.
Central’s NJROTC made great strides this school year. The team took first place at Florida’s state matches in Jacksonville, and Wallace finished as the top shooter in the state (Geiger placed third).
After winning the state competition, the four, plus alternate Dallas Strmensky, competed at regional matches in Alabama. Their scores placed them among the top 27 teams in the nation and won them a spot in the national competition.
The team’s scores (of a possible 600 each day) at regionals were:
Day 1: Geiger, 522; Wallace, 528; Howard, 499; Birchler, 487.
Day 2: Geiger, 537; Wallace, 524; Howard, 508; Birchler, 510.
Matches include shooting from three positions — prone, standing and kneeling. Each position includes shooting 10 rounds at 10 targets.
Teams compete with air rifles, which shoot pellets, and are not considered firearms.
"Not by any stretch," said Central’s rifle coach, retired Master Gunnery Sergeant Michael Arnett, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"This is a family-oriented sport," Arnett said. "We get 100 percent support from our families. These parents are gold. Without them we wouldn’t be going."
Air rifle competition is a female-dominated sport, Arnett said, and is the only high school-level sport in which girls compete directly with boys.
"Brent (Howard) is hanging on as the only boy," Arnett said. "On a general basis, the girls beat the boys. ... But he recently had a perfect score in the prone position. That is very rare and he did it!"
The sport requires dedication and practice. Skills diminish quickly. The team practices several days a week and is feeling prepared.
"It is one of those sports where anyone could show up and beat everyone else," Arnett said. "It is all about how well you control your emotions and mental outlook when you’re out on the firing line."