Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the Upson-Lee High School NJROTC Rifle Team, which recently won the Navy National Championship. Part 2 will be in the Tuesday, March 18, 2014 issue.
The Upson-Lee NJROTC Rifle Team leaves next Wednesday for Camp Perry, Ohio, to take part in the All Service National Championship. They will be going up against 19 of the best overall teams within each branch of the JROTC program, including Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corp JROTC’s. They earned the right to compete by winning the JROTC Navy National Championship last month. They got there by “chance” and with a dose of steady nerves.
The ULHS NJROTC Precision Rifle Team is made up of junior Rosemary Kramer, sophomores Miranda Baxley and Alyssa Hanson, and freshman Shannon Tyssen. They are coached by Naval Science Instructor Petty Officer Chuck Meyerriecks, USN (Ret).
While riflery is a co-ed sport, this team is the only all-female squad in the state, but they have quickly gained the respect of their peers. All of the girls grew up around rifles and have similar stories as to how they came be on the team.
Rosemary Kramer has already proven to be a multi-talented student. She has won a state award for her drawing of a bird, and her bird watching team has also won two state competitions. Shooting a rifle proved to be another of her talents.
“Both of my parents were hot shots in school, they were both good in riflery, so I decided I wanted to try out for the rifle team,” she said. “I joined ROTC and thought this was a good program, and I had almost forgotten about rifle team, then tryouts came and I got on the team.”
“Rosemary started out as a sporter team member, then I tried to talk her into precision, and she chickened out at first because she said that she would get claustrophobic in a suit,” said Meyerriecks. “But I talked her into it and now she’s one of the greatest in the country.”
That is no idle boast. Last year, in her first year of shooting on the precision team, Rosemary was named to the All State Rifle Team by the Georgia State Shooting Association. This year, she is one of the top shooters in both the state and the nation. At the Navy Nationals, Rosemary finished 1st as an individual shooter with a combined score of 1180 points out of a possible 1200, leaving a 16-point margin between herself and the 2nd place individual.
Miranda Baxley is on the team because of Rosemary.
“Rosemary came during my 8th grade year to the middle school, and I had no interest in ROTC whatsoever,” Miranda said. “She was talking about it and I learned about rifle team and I thought I would try it. And that was the one reason that I joined ROTC.”
Shannon Tyssen moved to Upson County last year and didn’t know anything about ROTC, but knew it would be right up her alley.
“I knew that I wanted to do it, because my family is very familiar with the military,” she said. “I’ve been shooting all my life with cousins’ guns and stuff like that, so I decided I wanted to go for it to see what I can do. And I got pretty far in competition. “
It was said earlier that the girls won the Navy Nationals by chance and steady nerves. That “chance” happens to be Chance Holley, who was a part of the precision team last year and would have been on the team at the beginning of this year, except he broke his wrist over the summer and was ruled ineligible to shoot, because his cast was considered added support. Meyerriecks already had Rosemary, Miranda and Shannon picked for the team, but with the injury to Chance, Meyerriecks turned to Alyssa Hanson as a replacement.
“I showed up late last year,” she said. “I was supposed to do it, but I showed up in second semester, so this is my first year. But he just kind of told me that I was going to be on the team. He brought me in and let me do a standing target and during tryouts I was shooting precision rifles.”
“For Alyssa, it’s genetics – her brother and sister were marksmen,” Meyerriecks said. “I had a hunch and tried her out and hit it right on the nail. So these four girls started from day one competing, and all four of the girls took this school all the way to the nationals.”
Riflery has two teams, a sporter team, and a precision team. A sporter team is for beginners, and Meyerriecks also uses it as a tool to see who could do good on the precision team. While Alyssa joined the precision team immediately, Rosemary, Miranda and Shannon all started on the sporter team for tryouts and competition, then transitioned to the precision team. Still, under Meyerriecks tutelage, the girls transformed themselves into a winning team.
“All four of them have experience, but I tell them the one rule is when they walk in that door, put it in their mind that they’ve never fired a gun before, because if they have it in their mind that they’ve fired a gun before, usually they’re not willing to learn my method of coaching,” Meyerriecks said. “So I taught them different ways of shooting, and they found out it is not like shooting a normal rifle, and it turned out for the best.”
The air rifles used in competition are provided by the school. The girls tried them all out until they found the ones that best suited them. Rosemary and Shannon have the lightest rifles on the team, Walther 300XT’s, while Alyssa and Miranda shoot the heaviest rifles, Steyr 110’s.
“Once they get a rifle adjusted to them, for as long as they are on the team, that is the rifle that they will use,” said Meyerriecks. “For example, if they are on the team all four years of their high school career, they will use that particular rifle for all four years. These four are all coming back next year, so they’ll have their same rifles and their same suits and just pick up from where they were this year.”
The precision team also wears specialized suits that help them stabilize themselves to provide a steady platform for shooting. The whole suit is designed for stabilization because in the precision team world, accuracy is the key.
“These suits are heavy. They’re made of Kevlar,” Rosemary said. “You can stand these pants up by themselves. The shoes have flat bottoms so you can’t wiggle or rock on them. You can’t lean back in them. It keeps your feet where you put them. That’s pretty much the point, because if you move your feet, you knock your sights off. So your feet don’t move the whole time you’re standing.”
“Our suits are made of Kevlar and hard leather, then you’ve got thick pieces of non-skid on our knees to keep us from moving around while we’re in the kneeling position,” added Shannon.
Shooting competitions consist of firing a series of 10 or 20 shots at targets 10 meters (33 feet) away from three different positions – standing, prone, and kneeling. Standing is the first position and is the toughest, because all they have are their arms to hold the rifles steady. Scientific studies have shown that women actually make better shooters than men, with some researchers suggesting it is because of the female hips. Meyerriecks teaches the girls to stand at a right angle to the target, thrust their hip toward the target, then rest their elbow on their hip for extra stabilization. Prone is the second position and is the easiest because their elbows are resting on mats. Kneeling is the last position and is the second hardest, because they rest their elbow on their front knee.
Shooting at targets 10 meters away is more difficult than you might think. The only scope the girls can use is a spotter’s scope next to them, which they look through to check where their shots went.
“Their rifles have a front aperture and a rear aperture, and it is basically like a peep sight,” Meyerriecks said. “I train them on what is called the eclipse effect – it looks like a lunar eclipse where the moon crosses in front of the sun. They have this clear ring around the dot and if it is a perfect pattern, kind of like a full eclipse, they know they’re dead on the target. Once they fire, they’ll look through the scope to see where the pellet went, then make the appropriate adjustments on the rear aperture. That’s another reason why it is so hard, because you’re shooting at 10 meters and when you actually look through the sight, you see a black circle with a little white dot in the middle. That’s a 10. That’s what they’re trying to knock out.”
“Some people don’t understand that,” Shannon noted. “I was talking to my brother the other day and he said it is not a hard thing to shoot a gun. It’s not, but the hard thing is keeping the rifle steady and then trying to shoot a bb at a pimple and making the shot.”
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.