No room for error: Area teens in national rifle competition
GALWAY There are tiny, imperceptible movements, almost two-thousandths of an inch, that are bad.
There are big movements, almost two thousand miles, that are good.
Three Saratoga County high school kids are adept at avoiding the first, which means they have the privilege of making the second.
Galway High School senior Breanna Flint and freshman Logan Ogden, and Ballston Spa High junior Alexandria Harrington will be traveling to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the National Junior Olympic Championships in riflery over the next two weeks, beginning on Monday.
This will be a return trip for Flint, who was 69th in the air rifle division last year and will also compete in smallbore shooting this year. She has accepted a Division I scholarship to the University of Tennessee at Martin and will compete on the rifle team there.
Because she’s been to the National Junor Olympics, she’s headed back with valuable experience in a sport that requires patience, precision and the steadiest of hands and mind to keep the barrel from wobbling even the most infinitesimal degree.
As their Galway Junior Rifle Club coach, Chuck Boykin, said, “If you try to hold a gun still for more than seven, eight seconds, you’re looking at one-thousandth of an inch movement here, and it may go up to two-thousandths of an inch movement.
“We consider that really bad.”
“I’ve already done it, so I’ll know what to expect,” Flint said. “When I went out there, I shot a personal best. So that’s why I’m going to be hoping to shoot another personal best, pay attention to my own target and concentrate on me.”
A shelf in the Galway Fish and Game Club shooting range building holds a long line of trophies, including state championships, one of which the club juniors won this year to reach the National Junior Olympics.
Flint is following in the footsteps of Galway graduate Heather Tillson, who was a four-time all-Ohio Valley Conference shooter at UT-Martin, and Steve Hahn of Middle Grove, a sophomore for the Skyhawks who made the all-OVC first team as a freshman. Boykin has also coached Division I shooters Colleen Tillson and Kyle Donnan.
Flint began shooting when she was 12, the youngest age at which New York state residents can possess firearms at a shooting range, under certified supervision.
Ogden and Harrington also started young and have emerged from a group of about 30 shooters at the club who are good enough to qualify for national competition.
“Mostly we get good, solid, quiet, hard-studying kids, and out of those, a small percentage of them like to compete at shooting, and out of those, probably about half of them get really good at it,” Boykin said.
The sport of riflery is vastly different from the loud, bombastic gunplay portrayed in the movies and video games.
During a two-hour practice on Wednesday night, the three junior Olympic shooters and three clubmates stood still as statues, aiming at small paper targets on a wall 10 meters away.
Occasionally, there was the snapping sound of a shot, while observers kept their voices down so the shooters could concentrate, not unlike watching a putting green during a golf tournament.
The stoic exterior concealed a constant internal battle with emotions, though.
“It’s a mental game,” Harrington said. “I’m still working on that. I get irritated. In the beginning, in my first and second year, I used to cry. Then I would stomp my feet and told coach I didn’t want to shoot. Now, I just get irritated.
“We’re working on things still.”
“Last year, I had a little bit of a problem keeping my emotions in control,” Ogden said. “Now, I don’t think it affects me as much. I can
focus a lot better. You want to try to visualize a perfect shot. You want to get it in your head that you’re going to shoot a perfect shot. There is no other acceptable shot.”
Boykin keeps an eye on the shooters and offers tips, but he said it’s not easy to summarize the observations and advice he supplies.
“That’s a question I couldn’t answer in less than four or five hours,” he said with a chuckle. “But what they’re really learning to do is concentrate and focus, zeroing in on one problem and not worrying about the past.”
During competition, the shooters get 60 shots on black circular targets with concentric rings of diminishing value the farther the shot is from the bull’s-eye.
The only time limit is self-imposed; Boykin said that the cutoff is about seven or eight seconds before a shooter’s concentration and steadiness start to crack.
A good score is in the 580s and requires many bull’s-eye hits.
Sometimes, the last shot can make a big difference in competition.
“If you think, ‘Oh, this is my last shot, after this, I’m going to be done,’ it gets you, and you’re probably going to shoot under a 10,” Ogden said. “You want to be surprised when you finish a target.”
“You’ve got to enjoy it,” Boykin said. “You’ve got to be level-headed and willing to work and really work on focusing and concentrating.
“Most of the good shooters are also good, academically. It’s like what they learn in school carries over into their shooting, and vice versa. We’ve never had a kid that was a real discipline problem.”
The three Junior Olympians fit that profile.
Flint, who enjoys the support of her high school, which awards varsity letters even though riflery isn’t an interscholastic sport, plans to study veterinary technology at UT-Martin.
Harrington said her friends were surprised to learn that she competes in a sport that requires the use of a gun.
“You have to want it,” Harrington said. “It’s definitely a commitment. You have to accept the fact that you’re going to be doing this. It’s really not a lot of time, it just seems like it because we’re teenagers and we see all our friends just doing whatever.”
“It takes a lot of determination,” Ogden said.
The hard work and determination paid off with the spots in the National Junior Olympics that the Galway Fish and Game Club kids earned.
Flint knows what to expect at the highest level of competition.
One observation she made last year is that it can be an eye-opening situation, competing against not only hundreds of other shooters, but against the best in the country, from which pretty much every state will be represented.
“When we first got there, we were talking with different families, and there was this 13-year-old girl there who had made it,” she said. “And I thought, well, that’s cool, she gets to go here when she’s 13 and I made it when I was 16. Then we shot, and it turns out that she was a top-10 finalist. She’s in the final, and she’s only 13.”
“It’s huge . . . it’s huge,” Harrington said. “There’s college coaches and everything there, so they really take a look at you, and you get your name out there. I expect to see a lot of people that we’ve heard about. I think it’ll be exciting.”
“Match pressure is huge,” Ogden said. “That’s going to be really hard to overcome in Colorado. The feeling of being in the Junior Olympics is probably what’s going to bring me down a couple points. It’s the best from all over the country.”