By CHRIS MORRIS
NEW ALBANY —
Prior to the 2013 Navy National Rifle Championship in Anniston, Ala., New Albany High School was just another team in the competition. And with traditional powers coming from Texas and Georgia, few paid much attention to New Albany’s shooters.
When the competition ended, all eyes were on Caleigh McLean, Caleb Hardin, Sam Harris, Brandon Longacre, Luke Rhoades or Kathryn Davis. The six who competed at the Precision competition led the Bulldogs to a first-place finish and the national title, beating out 3,000 NJROTC cadets who competed in the qualification round and national competition.
“After the final day of shooting, they were coming up to us and asking where we were from. They had never heard of us before,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Lyn Akermon, one of the team’s coaches. “They are well aware of us now.”
The team members are all cadets in New Albany High School’s NJROTC program, which is making a name for itself on the national shooting circuit. The team has won consecutive state championships and brought home a national title this year. And they aren’t done. The Indiana State Championship and All Service Rifle Tournament are both later this month.
“This year we had a lot more horses in the stable,” said New Albany Police Department Officer Steve Harris, who along with Akermon, coaches the team. “It was really good for us because it helps validate all the hard work we have put in to it. We have a lot of talent. We always struggled to find that fourth shooter but this year we had three shooters and didn’t know who would come out on top [as the fourth shooter]. We have a good bunch of kids this year.”
Harris — the school’s resource officer and a former member of the rifle team in the late 1980s — said he hopes to be in the top three at the All Service’s meet later this month. New Albany finished fifth last year in the competition.
“This group has really been dependable and mature this year. It’s a good group,” Akermon said.
There are usually eight shooters at the Precision level, but only scores from the top four count in competition. The shooters have to shoot at small electronic targets 33 feet away from where they are standing and both coaches said the competition is fierce and intense. The targets are the same used at the collegiate and Olympic levels.
Sam Harris placed third nationally following the competition, missing second place by one-tenth of a point. He is considering scholarship offers from Murray State University and the University of Kentucky. He has been guaranteed a spot on the rifle teams at either school.
The NAHS senior said he was disappointed by missing out on second place, since he led the competition after the first day of shooting.
“The second day I didn’t do as well,” he said.
Harris said he has been shooting for four years and credits his success to “a lot of hard work.
“I always enjoyed shooting but this is a different ballgame ... it’s not like shooting a .22 [caliber],” he said.
New Albany shoots in a NJROTC Precision League that includes schools from Kentucky. The season begins in September and will end this month with the All Service meet.
New Albany also has a Sporter team which Harris said is used as a feeder system for the Precision team. Since the rifle team is not sanctioned as a varsity sport, there is very little school money available. Harris said the team depends on grants, fundraisers and donors for travel and equipment costs. He said it costs about $3,500 to equip each shooter. He also said the teams goes through 40,000 pellets a season, which also adds to the expense.
For more information about the team, or to make a donation, contact Joe Maynard at firstname.lastname@example.org.