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A sport of mental toughness

Posted: Friday, November 05, 2010

Members of area riflery teams know they're not thought of as jocks.

Ap Photo/Alaska Star, Matt Tunseth
Ap Photo/Alaska Star, Matt Tunseth
In this Oct. 1 photo, Chugiak High's Delaney Hawkins aims for the target during a dual riflery meet at Eagle River High School in Eagle River. Members of area riflery teams know they're not thought of as jocks. Instead, the ranks of marksmen and women on Chugiak and Eagle River's teams are filled with students who excel more in the classroom than on the court, field or rink.

"Any time we tell (other students) we get sports credit for riflery, they give us a shocked look," said Eagle River shooter Darion Heald after a practice match against Chugiak in the Eagle River cafeteria.

Instead, the ranks of marksmen and women on Chugiak and Eagle River's teams are filled with students who excel more in the classroom than on the court, field or rink.

"I originally got into it because I needed the credits," said Wolves junior Anne Hopkin, who said she excels in "any math" classes.

But just because riflery isn't a marquee sport doesn't mean it's not a big-time challenge to try and hit a tiny paper target with a .177-caliber air rifle.

"The rifles are kind of heavy, and you have to hold really still," Hopkin said.

Heald said that one of the biggest challenges in the sport is figuring out how to mentally deal with distracting noises and the numbed nerves that result from standing, kneeling or lying while trying to focus on the target.

"You have to be able to block all that out," he said.

Eagle River's Lauren Chun (who said she's a language buff when she's not shooting), said that the sport is a keen test of a shooter's concentration skills.

"You have to be able to focus on what's going on," she said.

Riflery's also a big social sport. Because there are lengthy breaks between shooting sessions (a typical riflery meet can last more than three hours), team members have lots of time to study and get to know one another socially.

"I've met kids I would never have met otherwise," Hopkin said.

In addition to the social and mental advantages of taking up the sport, riflery can also instill discipline and teach valuable safety skills, said Chugiak coach MSGT Wm. "Top" Dill, a retired Marine.

"At this level, all you want to teach them is the basic fundamentals of rifle safety and marksmanship," Dill said.

Before any of his shooters even pick up a rifle, Dill said they must pass a safety training course that focuses on everything from firing-line protocol to proper loading and unloading of the rifles.

"There's rules for everything in riflery," he said.

The practice meet at Eagle River was the opening salvo in a riflery season that consists of seven weeks of dual matches and culminates in a Cook Inlet Conference meet in December.

Wolves coach Jeff Parker said he's got 24 kids out for the sport this year. At Chugiak, Dill said he's got 32 team members.

Fans of the sport will notice a change in this year's scoring system during meets. In the past, the top scorers in the "A" round of shooters counted for all the points. This year, the school district revised that system to allow two points for the top shooters in the A, B and C rounds of shooting.

That will open up the competition quite a bit, Parker said, because it gives shooters in the other two classes a chance to help their team to victory.

"It eliminates the possibility of only four shooters dictating the winning and losing of a match," Parker said. "It makes every shooter feel good about themselves."



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