GLASGOW — On Wednesday, Barren County High School's AJROTC air rifle team began competing against Harold L. Richards NJROTC air rifle team in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
The team is competing virtually, which in this case means it is competing from its home range without having to travel to another school and the scores are being aggregated on the Internet. The team's home range is in the JROTC building on the BCHS campus along Trojan Trail.
The match will end Sunday.
The team competes in the National Air Rifle League, which has two divisions — champions and distinguished.
“Champions is a higher division and is reserved for the best teams in the country. Teams have to qualify just to compete in that division,” said league administrator Erik Anderson. “All other teams compete in the distinguished division, of which Barren County is one. Each week teams compete against one other team in their division.”
The regular season is eight weeks long and is currently taking place, he said.
“At the end of the regular season, in the distinguished division, the top two teams from each conference compete for the conference title. The five conferences represent the four JROTC services, the fifth is Junior Rifle Clubs,” Anderson said.
Last week, the BCHS team defeated Eastern High School in Louisville with a score of 835 to 808. It was BCHS' second consecutive win. The team currently has a 2-2 season record. Its competition on Wednesday was its fifth one for the season.
Wesley Liverman, a BCHS senior, lead the team in its competition against Eastern High School. He shot 223 out of a possible 300 points. He is one of 15 students who make up the team.
Liverman was taught how to shoot by his father. He joined the team because he thought it would improve his skills.
“It just became something to build my self-confidence. That's why I truly enjoy it. It's just me. I don't have to worry about anyone else. It's just me,” he said.
Students who are on the team must be enrolled in the JROTC Army program and take the marksmanship class before they can compete.
“We do that for a safety reason,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Phil Gearlds, JROTC Army instructor and coach of the air rifle team.
Marksmanship is a two-day class that is taught outdoors. Students must take a test at the completion of the class.
“If the cadets take the test and make 80 or above, they can study and retake the test because they are required to make 100 on the test before they can be on the marksmanship team,” Gearlds said.
He has been teaching marksmanship since 2010. BCHS has had an air rifle team since 2012.
The team began competing virtually two years ago, which Gearlds says is a cost-savings measure for the school system when it comes to traveling to matches.
The team shoots .22-caliber rifles, and all of the rifles used by the team, except for about six, were donated by the National Rifle Association. The NRA also donated a gun safe for the team to use in storing its rifles.
The rifle the team shoots is an Olympic-style rifle called the Crossman Challenger.
“For school safety purposes we cannot shoot a rifle that shoots more than 600 feet per second, so this shoots on or about 600 feet per second,” Gearlds said. “We shoot a 0.177-caliber pellet.”
Joining Liverman on the team are two girls, Abigail Davis and Dalia Gonzalez, both sophomores.
There are two reasons that inspired Davis to join the team.
“There's not many females who are on the team, so I was like maybe that's what I want to do,” she said.
The other reason has to do with her cousin, McKenzie Martinez, who graduated in May 2018 from BCHS.
“My cousin was our commander last year and she was our top shooter,” Davis said.
Gonzalez said she wanted to be a part of the team because she felt like it was something she could do.
Both are among the team's top shooters.
“A lot of us guys think we already know how to shoot because we go deer hunting, turkey hunting,” Gearlds said.
Gonzalez had never picked up a rifle until she joined JROTC.
“She's normally our third or fourth top shooter,” Gearlds said. “I taught her how to shoot.”
On Wednesday, Gonzalez shot 202 out of a possible 300 points, while Liverman shot 223.
Gearlds also pointed out that Davis has improved her shooting. At one time she was ranked 10th, but is now fifth, he said.
Davis is not the only member of the team who was inspired to join because of Martinez, who was a member of the Kentucky National Guard.
John Elmore, a senior, is also a member of the Kentucky National Guard.
“From her dealing with marksmanship, she's done a lot better at her shooting while she was at basic,” Elmore said, adding that Martinez shot at the expert level while in basic training. “I'm hoping that this will help me when I go to basic training next summer.”
Mason Smith, also a senior, joined the team because he is a hunter and has always had an interest in firearms.
“I really wanted to improve myself with my shooting. I'm with JROTC and I wanted to be part of a team in high school,” he said.
Smith doesn't play any other sport.
“This here is kind of my competitive team,” he said.
It is possible the team will move up a division, but Gearlds said that won't be known until after Sunday.