The Henry County Sharp Shooters improved this year at the National Rifle Association’s International Youth Hunter Education Challenge, but the problem was every other team improved, too, in a competition between the best squads in the country.
The Sharp Shooters finished ninth in the junior division at the national competition last August in Pennsylvania and went back a couple of weeks ago with the goal of a top-five outing. This year, on July 27-31 in New Mexico, they finished 11th place despite shooting much better. Teams fifth through 11th were separated by just 300 points, which is considered close in a competition that tests individuals in various disciplines.
“At first glance, you would think we did worse this year, but we actually did better because we had a better team score,” coach Dennis Campbell said after the team returned from its long drive to New Mexico and back. “The competition was much, much better. Our points went up and we improved, but so did everyone else.”
During the tournament, the Sharp Shooters competed in various competitions, including four shooting challenges — shotguns, muzzleloaders, rifles and archery — orienteering, wildlife identification and safety trail. Participants could score up to 300 points in each event. The top five scores from each team were added up for the overall team standings.
The Sharp Shooters best event was the orienting. They finished third in the team standings to grab an elusive team medal — the top three teams in each event receive medals — led by Andrew Pollard’s third-place individual finish to earn an individual medal. In archery, the Sharp Shooters finished fifth, just 13 points away from third place. Last year’s team won the safety trial challenge.
Besides Andrew Pollard, the other Sharp Shooters were James Pollard, Jacob, Jared and Justin Yount, and Jordan Campbell. With just five on each team, Justin competed as an individual.
“We’ve learned some more stuff that will prepare us for next year,” Campbell said. “Right now, we plan on going back next year but we’ll need some people to step up and to get more guys on the team.”
Before the national tournament this season, the junior squad was perfect in two tournaments, including repeating as the state champions at the Kentucky Youth Hunter Education Challenge. The squad finished fifth at state in 2006, runners-up in 2007 and won in 2008 and 2009.
The Sharp Shooters started from scratch just four years ago but have blossomed into the best team in the state and a national contender. This year, they qualified for nationals based on their performance at the Brewer Invitational, considered a regional-qualifying event. They swept the top two team spots in the junior division, and finished second in the senior division.
While the Sharp Shooters have had a junior team — composed of players aged 14 and under — compete at nationals the last two years, they have not had a senior team — composed of players 15-18 — compete against the best in the country. With Jacob Yount, Andrew and James Pollard, and Campbell all moving up to the senior division, they could send both a junior and senior team next summer. Next year’s event will be back in Pennsylvania in a two-year rotating plan with New Mexico.
“We will be a little low on juniors next year so we’re looking to get more out,” Campbell said. “We feel certain we will take a senior team next year but we need more numbers.”
Campebll said to find out more information about the Sharp Shooters, e-mail the county extension agent for 4-H youth development, Cathy Toole, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for next year’s jump from the junior division to senior, Campbell knows it will be a big change. This year’s junior score would have placed the Sharp Shooters 22nd in the senior ranks.
“We’re really going to have to up our game next year,” Campbell said. “We will see a big jump up. We’re probably going to start practicing in early fall this year to get ready, plus we should have some younger guys come in that don’t have the experience.”
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