COVENTRY - Just months after it was established, Coventry High School’s marksmanship team had a strong showing during its first ever live match on Saturday, proving itself as one to beat.
Ten students from the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) make up the high school’s fledgling marksmanship team. Eight of those students traveled over the weekend to Perth Amboy High School in New Jersey to compete against teams from eight schools across Area 4, a region comprising New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, New England and Europe.
Out of 17 teams that competed, one of Coventry’s two competition teams took second place overall while the other came in fifth place.
“This is a pretty big deal,” said Master Chief Ed Kay, who coaches the team. “These are great kids who have spent a lot of time to achieve a goal that most people would not have anticipated, being such a young team.”
Saturday’s first place winners were tough to beat, Kay added. The team from New York’s Middletown High School in years past has taken home national championships, and during Saturday’s meet scored 2,039 points. Still, with 1,785 points, Coventry was only about 300 points shy of a win.
“Three-hundred points over four shooters is not a lot of points,” Kay said. “It’s actually considered fairly close for a novice team like this.”
The competition had each athlete shooting from the prone, standing and kneeling positions.
“The course of fire that they did was taxing,” Kay said. “It was 20 shots in each position, which means that they were shooting for an hour and a half each.”
Coventry’s marksmanship team was formed in the fall in conjunction with the marksmanship program established last spring. The team’s members have been practicing their sport tirelessly over the last several months, and even spent some 25 hours shooting during their February break.
“It really speaks to their character,” Kay said. “They could have slept in — I mean, who wants to come to school on your break? But they did it.”
While there are other JROTC marksmanship programs across New England, Coventry’s team is the only one in New England that actually competes. Because competition opportunities are so few and far between, the students have been competing in so-called “postal” competitions, shooting at targets sent by mail and then sending them back to the sponsor for scoring.
The team has participated in three postal competitions since the fall, including one that could have qualified it to compete in the Secretary of the Navy JROTC Air Rifle Championship.
“That was right at the beginning and they had just come off of holiday break,” Kay said, “but next year when they shoot for the Secretary of the Navy, we could find ourselves in a much better place with a possible invite to nationals.”
Saturday’s match was the team’s first ever live, or should-to-shoulder, competition.
Kay said he’s working with Brenda Jacobs, the state representative for the Civilian Marksmanship Program, to hold a match at Coventry High School next year, as well as to enter his team into shooting matches against teams from area gun clubs.
“The benefit of having a match here is that they get home-field advantage, but they also get shooting time,” he added. “It’s like any sport — you have to practice.”
Kay said he hopes to eventually see other schools in the state adopt marksmanship teams so that his own team can have some local competition.
Because the team has been working with second-hand equipment, Kay added that he hopes to land community sponsorship soon to purchase new air rifles that might help the team improve further.
“I told the kids, ‘you keep shooting this well, we’ll have top-of-the-line stuff,’” he said.
And as for the future of Coventry’s marksmanship team, the shooters who competed Saturday are in grades nine through 11, so Kay called their impressive showing “a good sign” of things to come.
“By the time we progress in two or three years, if they’re already starting at this level, I expect to be taking home the gold in the future,” Kay said.