For the Farmington High School Air Force JROTC rifle team, a year of change has not hampered their efforts, but instead helped strengthen a young team.
“If you just look at scoring and awards, our team was pretty average,” said Col. Randy Sparks, adviser for the program. “We only had three or four experienced shooters out of 15. Everyone else was brand new. In that regard, the improvement of all the shooters was phenomenal.”
Sparks, who took command of the high school’s JROTC program this year, referred to his own lack of experience as a coach in overcoming the first hurdle for the team.
“I never coached a rifle team before,” Sparks said. “I had no experience. Thank God for Dana Gartner and Bob Thompson. They were sort of the coaches and I was more of a manager of the program until I learned what to do.”
The objective of the sport is for the shooter to place a lead pellet into the center of a target 10 meters away…a feat that is infinitely much harder than it sounds.
“Our shooters use Olympic-style air rifles that shoot lead pellets,” Sparks said. “There is a series of three targets at 10 meters away that sit on a backstop. Each one of the targets has 10 individual targets. The shooter must place a lead pellet in the center of each individual target only using peep sights. It’s the equivalent of hitting a fly at 10 meters.”
What most people who don’t follow the sport realize is, for the most part, competitions are typically not shoulder-to-shoulder matches – meaning schools do not travel to compete.
Instead, teams shoot at their home course and the visiting team then sends their targets to the host school to be scored.
“Most shoots are postal shoots where the visiting team mails their targets to the host post to be scored,” Sparks said. “We only shoot shoulder-to-shoulder once or twice in a season.”
With the season beginning almost immediately after school began, the cadets competed in six competitions plus a conference match in Dyersburg, Tennessee on Nov. 5.
“At conference, we finished fourth out of seven teams, which I thought was pretty good,” Sparks said. “Half of our shooters were new shooters, and half of the shooters on our A Team were also new. In fact, two cadets on our A Team were freshman.”
Sparks will be the first to say the driving force behind the rifle team’s success is in Gartner and two of his best shooters, juniors Youen Roper and Drew Lynch. Both Roper and Lynch are three-year cadet members.
“Youen is the rifle team’s commander and Drew is right behind him,” Sparks said. “They are both are a bit shy when outside of rifle team, but when there were minor discipline issues on the range and a cadet would get a little edgy, these two would step up. Without any prompting from me or the other coaches, they would tell guys that is not what we do on the range.”
Roper’s success may come somewhat as a surprise to most people considering five years ago, Roper had just arrived from his native country of France.
“I came from France and over there, anything that has to do with a gun you don’t touch,” Roper said. “Over here, we have a sport where I can shoot.”
Although the rifle team’s season has concluded, they are planning one more event. They will be hosting a turkey shoot at 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday at the Farmington National Guard Armory located at 1210 Morris St.
“The turkey shoot will give our teachers and parents a chance to shoot and see what our rifle team does during competition,” Sparks said. “This will also give our cadets a chance to demonstrate what they can do.”
Craig Vaughn is a reporter for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3629 or at firstname.lastname@example.org