Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the Upson Lee High School NJROTC Precision Rifle Team, which recently won the Navy National Championship and which is headed to Camp Perry, Ohio this week to take part in the All Services National Championship. Part 1 was in the Friday, March 14, 2014 edition.
Upson County already has a history of having state champion rifle teams. R. E. Lee High School was state champion in the .22 rifle competition for five years straight in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, in 1981, and six years straight in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991. The .22 rifle competition was discontinued in 1999.
But there is a major difference between the state championship winning teams of R. E. Lee and the Navy National Championship team of Upson-Lee – the R. E. Lee teams were all male and the Upson-Lee JROTC team this year is all female. The members of the team – Rosemary Kramer, Miranda Baxley, Alyssa Hanson, and Shannon Tyssen, with Coach Chuck Meyerriecks – have shown they have the attributes it takes to be a champion-caliber sharpshooter.
Shooting takes patience, steady nerves, and an ability to get into a “zone” where you tune out everything going on around you. All four girls use music to help them get into their zones.
“All the team listens to music,” Shannon said. “We’ll get to a competition and be listening to music. When we’re shooting, you can see all the other shooters kind of zoning out to the music, bobbing their heads to the beat, sometimes lip syncing. You get a song stuck in your head and you’re jamming out to the song.”
“For me, when I listen to music and then go out and shoot, I feel like I’m the only person in that range, because that song is stuck in my head,” Miranda stated. “Then I just start shooting.”
“ I’m the kind of person who wants to be doing something all the time,” Alyssa noted. “I can’t be sitting still. But whenever I do rifle team, I feel like I calm down and it soothes me. I get away from doing all that stuff.”
“Music in, world out,” said Rosemary. “You get in a zone. Once you get in that zone, you’re good. If you don’t get in a zone, you’re distracted.”
“That’s why we put in ear plugs, to cancel out the sounds,” Miranda added. “If we hear someone scream in the background, we’re going to obviously get a little revved up and not shoot as well, but once we get in a zone we’re good.”
Meyerriecks admitted that during the first day of competition at the Navy Nationals, held in Anniston, Alabama, he screamed at the range officer to get Alyssa off the line when her rifle malfunctioned. But, thanks to Alyssa’s steady nerves, what could have been a competition-ending event turned into a national title.
“Alyssa had a rifle malfunction and I know if she had continued to shoot, the shots that she fired that missed the target would have counted,” Meyerriecks said. “So I yelled at the range officer to get her off the line. She did a really good recovery, because she even had to shoot with another rifle. I thought we were done at the nationals as soon as she missed the paper. But according to the rulebook, if it was a rifle malfunction, I had some time to fix her rifle. I wasn’t able to, so she shot with a spare. By the time we figured it out, she had 12 minutes to shoot 20 shots in the hardest position ever, which is the standing position. She still recovered by shooting an 82 on one paper and a 90 on another, and it kept us in. Then all four of them pulled together the second day and shot our best score in history, which topped us out and caused us to win the Navy National Championship.”
“My rifle is 15 pounds, and the rifle that I got was a lot lighter and I didn’t like it,” Alyssa recalled. “It was a different model, too. But I just kind of went with it. My heart was racing, but I just kind of thought about it and went. But I was really worried about it the whole time, and by the time I was through, I couldn’t hold back and I just cried.”
“The one thing that people have to understand is this is by far not a physical sport,” Meyerriecks added. “This is probably one of the hardest sports in Georgia high school because it is a mental sport. She had, for example, five other head coaches at the Navy Nationals come up to her and say that if that would have been their shooter, they would have never been able to recover because the minute you get stressed out, your heart starts to race, and in any other situation, you start shaking because your blood pressure is up there. But these four girls, the reason why they are as good as they are, is because they have that mental strength. If something goes wrong. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to have a really good shooter. Any rifle team coach will tell anybody that if you cannot control your emotions, you have no business being on a rifle range, because you’re not going to hit the target. These girls are strong willed and strong minded, and I think that’s one thing that got them where they’re at today.”
In addition to the All Services National Championship, the rifle team, along with Chance Holley, is also competing in the state playoffs.
JROTC Riflery only allows a four-person team, but Georgia high school riflery allows up to eight shooters on a team. Chance Holley got his cast off midway through the high school season and joined the precision team and will compete with them in the high school state playoffs, but he will not be going with them to the All Services National Championship.
“The team finished a perfect regular season for Georgia high school – 10-0 – we went to the Area 1 Championship last week,” said Meyerriecks. “We took 3rd Place in the Area 1 Championship, but it places us really well in the play-off brackets. Where they placed, we have a really good shot of going to the state championship. I’m trying to line up Jackson High School in Atlanta for next Tuesday. That’s the team we shoot against in the preliminaries. Then after that, we find out who we’re going to shoot against in the semi-finals, and then if we advance, we go to the state championship in Ft. Benning on April 12.
“We’ll see how these girls do shooting against the best teams in the nation (at Camp Perry),” Meyerriecks said, referring to the upcoming All Services National Championship. “We’ve got schools from all over the country. We’re talking Texas, one from Alaska, Illinois, all over the place. The team from Walla Walla, Washington made it. They’ve got their stuff cut out for them, but I have no doubt they will be able to do it.”
And after high school? All four girls noted that they plan to continue with their shooting prowess, and Rosemary noted that riflery is both an NCAA and Olympics sport.
“There are 35 Division I and Division II NCAA colleges that have rifle teams,” Rosemary said. “It is an NCAA sport just like football and soccer and all those professional sports. And after college, they have Olympics for riflery and all sorts of other competitions.”
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.