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After qualifying with an outstanding performance at regionals, a quartet of Sickles High School JROTC (Junior Reserved Officers Training Corps) sharpshooters will represent their school at a national competition this week in Ohio.
The opportunity comes after hours and hours of practice, time spent focusing on tiny targets perched 30 feet away. The goal is to for the cadets using air rifles to deliver pellets into the bullseyes from the standing, kneeling and prone positions.
“You can’t just come out here and start shooting 10s,” said Master Sgt. Bill Robinson, their coach. “Three days a week, two hours a day just to get to that level.”
Multiple banners adorn the room from previous top finishes in regional and national competitions. Coach Robinson is building a bit of a dynasty in Room 407, working with students such as junior Trinity Gomez.
“She’s like Michael Phelps, man,” Robinson said this week as Gomez showcased her collection of medals.
Gomez stumbled into the marksmanship quite by accident. As a freshman, she came into the JROTC classroom after school one day to submit an application for the drill team. But tryouts were happening for the rifle team so she said, “I guess I’ll stay for that,” she recalled, “and I ended up making the team.”
Gomez ranks third of all Air Force JROTC cadets in the nation. The nation! The key, she says, is mental focus.
“That’s 95 percent of it. The rest of it is muscle memory,” she said.
Teammate Gwenn Ellis says the activity helps her relax. The junior talks about as fast as the pellets fly across the room.
“This gives me a chance to calm down,” said Ellis, who has the seventh highest score in the country among JROTC Air Force cadets. “I’m really upbeat and very fast with everything I do, and I can’t be like that with shooting.”
Both girls shine in other areas beyond marksmanship. Gomez plays clarinet and sax in Sickles’ award-winning band, while Ellis is part of the theater program and is part of the costume crew for the upcoming production of “Legally Blonde.”
Junior Tommy Marasco and freshman Nordiz Fuentes round out the Sickles team.
Marasco says classmates sometimes think what they do is easy – “All you do is shoot a gun,” they say – but it takes time and practice to be competitive. With 600 points a perfect score, Robinson said it usually takes a 570 or better to win.
Marasco’s father, Lt. Col. Bob Marasco, commands the Sickles JROTC unit. He says the marksmanship competitions teach students focus, how to control their emotions and life skills such as problem solving. In competition, it’s just students, targets and a running clock.
Like life, he said, “Something is going to go wrong.”
And it’s up to participants to figure out how to fix it.
Marksmanship is an after-school activity. To participate, all students participate in two weeks of safety training and must earn 100/100 on a written test.
“100 or you don’t come in here,” Robinson said.
The 2018 JROTC National Air Rifle Championships start Thursday at Camp Perry along the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio.View Full Album