As the shooters stepped to the firing line for the eighth-annual Naval Junior ROTC rifle competition Saturday at Carson High School, the trophy they vied for stood on the table behind them. Bearing the U.S. Navy seal, the trophy names the Sierra Nevada JROTC "Top Guns" for the last seven years. Every year it's the same: Carson High School.
"We've held on to that thing every year," said rifle team coach Sgt. Maj. Wayne Baker.
The team finally fell to Reed High School on Saturday after their long reign. Carson's Junior Navy Reserve Officer Training program A Team scored 1,965 points, getting edged out Reed's 1,972 points.
"We lost by a total of seven points," said Cmdr. Skip Cannady. "It was incredibly close."
Carson's A Team, Chad Gilmore, Cody Stokes, Michael Moltz and Jason Hastings, placed first in the team competition, beating the second place team from Reed by one point - 1,009 to 1,008.
"Those are really high scores," Cannady said.
Carson's novice team, Leah Taboada, Sarah Stadler, Andrew Stephenson and Robert Bagley, also placed first in their category.
Competitive shooters must be focused.
"It takes a lot of discipline," said Carson's Moltz.
"It's all about the mind set," agreed Stokes.
To prepare for each shot, the team uses the B.R.A.S.S. technique taught by Baker. Each of his shooters remembers to Breath, Relax, Aim, Stop then Shoot.
"Or they're supposed to," says the 24-year Marine Corps veteran with a smile.
Some competitors even check their pulse before looking through the rings of their rifle sights to fire another round.
Even though they're only using Daisy .177 pellet guns, the competition is comparable to other rifle competitions, Baker said. They're not shooting as far, but the targets are much smaller. In sporter air rifle matches they shoot 11Ú2-inch targets at 33 feet. Using a .22-caliber rifle they'd shoot larger targets at 50 feet. Using the military's M-16, .223-caliber rifles they'd shoot 12-inch targets at 100 or 200 yards.
"It all looks the same through the sights," he said.
Baker started the competition eight years ago with 24 shooters from four schools. Last year about 65 competed. This year there were 97. A team from Eureka, Calif., drove seven hours to compete.
The teams shoot in regional competitions in order to qualify for a national match at Fort Benning, Ga., in March. Only one team from Area 13, which includes Northern California, Northern Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Utah and Guam, will go on to nationals.
"It's tough to get back there," Baker said.
Last year both Reed and Carson went to the nationals after Carson qualified in a postal match. Reed placed first for the Navy and third in the national, all-branch competition. Carson got third for the Navy and seventh for the national JROTC match.
"The level of competition is getting higher," Baker said.
The maximum possible points for the competitions is 300 - 100 per position. The less expensive sporter air rifles, aimed perfectly, will only shoot about 275 points, said Cannady.
Anyone shooting over 250 is competitive. Carson's Chad Gilmore shot 281 last Monday for the American Legions Sporter Match. He shot 267 to become the highest-scoring shooter this weekend.
"Last year if you shot 250 you were God," said Stokes. "It steadily improves every year. The kids today have a higher discipline capacity."
Contact Karl Horeis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.