It takes something special to get high school kids to wake up and be at school at 6 a.m. every day before school to practice for a sport no one will know about.
Before the rest of the students are awake, the North Salem High School Army JROTC Precision Shooting Team members are at the school, setting up a firing range and tearing it down before the school day begins.
It requires a level of dedication few possess, but the kids are at the school long before the sun rises to try get better.
“It’s almost like go through the motions, but once you get here you’re kind of more awake, but not really,” said senior Noah Atkinson, a four-year shooter on the team.
North Salem’s precision shooting team placed third in the Feb. 20-22 Army JROTC Western Regional Championships with a score of 4,524 – the team won it a year ago – and was ninth nationally this year.
Junior Andrew Gross placed sixth individually at the competition with a score of 1,149 and senior Kasey Rysavy was seventh with 1,148.
“These kids are really, really, really good,” said North Salem coach James Wagner, also an instructor in the school’s JROTC program.
The team has been invited to the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s Western Region in April in Salt Lake City. North Salem is the 22nd qualifier out of 295 junior teams in the nation that qualified for the championships, which includes non JROTC teams.
The Precision Shooting Team is an extracurricular program associated with North Salem’s JROTC program, like the Drill Team, Physical Fitness Team and Color Guard.
The three positions from which the shooters fire pellets from the air rifles are prone (lying on the ground), standing and kneeling.
Precision shooting is a co-ed sport, and there are a pair of siblings on North Salem’s team in junior Andrew Gross and freshman Laura Gross, the four-person team’s alternate.
“Oh, it’s been a lot different than it was last year,” Andrew Gross said. “It’s kind of weird, like I kind of have to watch up for her, have a little more responsibility than I did last year. Have to make sure she does her part so she doesn’t fall behind or anything.
“I tried to teach her during the summer and it was bad. Didn’t work out well.”
Laura Gross said she went to a drill meet last year and thought the precision shooting team was boring. She still wanted to join ROTC at North Salem when she enrolled in the school in the fall, but had no designs on shooting.
“I joined JROTC and I was going to be on the PT team. PT team is like physical fitness team,” Laura Gross said. “My brother was on the shooting team so I was like, I’ll try it. Now I really like it a lot.”
The nature of the sport allows girls to compete on an even playing field with the boys.
The girls think they have an advantage with the mental component of the sport.
“I think it’s easier for us because we’re less competitive than guys are,” senior Kasey Rysavy said.
Rysavy is considered the phenom of the group.
She was shooting guns at age 5 and when she came to North Salem she joined the newly started program.
She showed a knack for the sport quickly and has been placing at competitions since.
“It’s motivated me, made me feel better about myself,” said Ryvasy, who has aspirations of shooting in college. “I never thought I was great at anything and going to these competitions I realized that I have something I can work towards, and just know that I’m good at something and I want to be better at it.”
Ryvasy has been invited to shoot in the Women’s National Junior Olympic Championships at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“The top few shooters in each age category — there’s three categories, J1, J2 and J3, and really all it is, it’s an age category. She’s in the 17-, 18-, 19-year-old age category — the top two girls in each category will get offered an automatic placement onto the Junior Olympic developmental team,” Wagner said.
Experience shooting real guns doesn’t always carry over to shooting precision air rifles, just as shooting precision rifles doesn’t necessarily carry over to shooting real guns.
“I shot freshman year, and I would say it is more difficult because it’s hard to come back from a bad shot,” said senior Justin Duncan.
Competing in a sport like precision shooting and other sports are completely different experiences.
Senior Jordan Spier, who has played football, basketball and golf at North Salem, said that there have been times when he competes in other sports where he had bad days emotionally, but was able to continue to play well.
“Any time I go to a competition, I’m always nervous,” Spier said. “But how it stacks up is I know my ability in shooting and what I can do, but it’s all mental, really, not physical. In football, you might have an off day mentally, but you could still have a good day physically.
“Shooting you need to be in the right mental state. If you’re having a bad day emotionally, you’re going to have a bad shooting.”
The camaraderie gained from the early mornings spent together is apparent when the team members get together.
“I’ve noticed that this team, we’ve become a lot tighter than I have with a lot of my baseball teams,” Andrew Gross said. “Baseball teams, we’ve just kind of showed up and went home. Every once in a while, we’d go see a movie as a team for bonding or whatever, but this team we hang out all the time.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at Twitter.com/bpoehler