Rifle team shows promise for future
A number of local high schools recently finished another regular season in the Northeast Pennsylvania Scholastic Rifle League. But one major change surfaced in 2018 that schools had to become accustomed to for the winter.
Salisbury, which finished 0-9 in the regular season, was one of 10 league teams that experienced a new shooting target this past season. The change resulted in a much more competitive NEPARL field from top to bottom.
“The league switched from the USA-50 target to the less difficult A-17 target,” head coach Kevin Johnson said. “To quantify the difficulty difference between the two targets, to score a 10 on the USA-50 bull’s-eye, a shooter would have to hit a dot the size of a small pin head from a 50 foot distance; while on the A-17, a shooter now needs to hit a circle about 2 tenths of an inch wide or the same diameter as the 22-caliber rounds the shooters fire.
“It’s still a difficult feat to achieve, especially when it needs to be done 10 times per target to score a perfect 100, but there is now a larger margin of error. This change has narrowed the field between the top- and lower-ranked teams in the league.”
While the change in targets resulted in more perfect 100 individual scores, matches were more competitive overall.
“In years past with the USA-50 target there may have been as much as a 50-point difference in a match result between a winning and losing team,” Johnson said. “But now with the A-17, that point spread has been cut down by as much as half or more between top- and bottom-ranked teams. It has led to very close matches coming down to one or two points between teams of similar ability.”
Shooters compete with a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle, with 10 participants competing in any given match and the top five shooters earning points for the overall team score. Each shooter aims and fires at 10 individual targets, earning a score up to 10 points on target.
For Salisbury, senior captain Rebecca Aungst was one of Johnson’s most consistent shooters all season. She scored a 99 against eventual tournament champion Emmaus in mid-December, one of her top performances of the season.
“Rebecca is my captain for this season and distinguishes herself on and off the firing line,” Johnson said. “She has wonderful shooting ability and the intelligence to apply the basic fundamentals, along with the higher level technical aspects of this sport to her shooting, making for a well rounded and capable rifleman. But what is more impressive about Rebecca is her attitude off the firing line. She conducts herself maturely and efficiently, getting all the tasks one is required of as a captain competed.”
Aungst will graduate in the spring and leave a void on the team. But Johnson expects much of this year’s team to return for the 2019 season, including top performers Bryce Erdman and Matthew Staack.
“Bryce Erdman has consistently been a top performer along with Matthew Staack, both of which I am pleased to see will be back for next season,” Johnson said. “A new shooter, Riley Peters, shows great potential and has picked up the sport quickly. My seniors, including Connor Zamora and Rebecca Aungst, are always at the top of my scoring book and have improved leaps and bounds from their early days on the team.”
For Johnson, his message goes beyond just the appropriate way to operate a firearm.
“Firearm safety has and always will be the pinnacle lesson I instill into my shooters,” Johnson said. “However, beyond that important message I try to teach a sense of responsibility and maturity. During the first meeting at the start of every season, I explain to new and returning shooters that becoming a member of this team means taking on the responsibly of being ambassadors for the rifle team itself, the school and shooting sports as a whole.
“Their actions, positive or negative, can have a direct effect on if the rifle team continues to exist and flourish or is disbanded due to negative public perception.”
Salisbury’s numbers were down a bit this year in the sport, but Johnson expects the interest in the rifle to continue at the school in the future.
“The future has always looked positive during my tenure as the rifle coach, and I do not see that trend wavering,” Johnson said. “Those who come back after spending a year on the team, finding the joy and challenge of rifle, always seem to bring two or three new friends the following season to share in their newfound activity.
“Its’ not uncommon to see 11th and 12th grade students come out for their first time after being told by their peers how much fun rifle can be.”
Southern Lehigh finished a perfect 9-0 in the regular season for the team championship. Emmaus won the playoff championship by out-dueling Southern Lehigh, 1,000-998.