By Johnny Jackson
Luella and Union Grove high schools will face off this weekend, as they vie for the state's top team title in high school air riflery.
"This is going to be an awesome high school championship," said Senior Chief Warren Varnadoe, who coaches the Union Grove Air Rifle Team.
Varnadoe said half a dozen teams have an equal chance of winning the Georgia High School Association's Air Riflery Championship, which will be held Saturday at the Pool International Shooting Range in Columbus.
The state championship will include three Georgia teams which posted top 10 overall scores at the Civilian Marksmanship Program's (CMP) 2010 National JROTC Precision Air Rifle Championship, known as All-Service Nationals. The All-Service Nationals were held March 25-27, at the CMP Marksmanship Center in Anniston, Ala.
The Luella and Union Grove Navy JROTC Air Rifle Teams placed fourth and ninth, respectively, in All-Service Nationals standings, behind the second-place Chattahoochee County Army JROTC Air Rifle Team, which is expected to compete at state this weekend.
Steven Frazier, a precision shooter at Union Grove, will attempt to defend his individual state title this weekend, after a fifth-place finish at last weekend's All-Service Nationals. Frazier began his second day at the national competition in first place, but finished fifth overall in individual precision shooting.
Varnadoe noted, however, that the high school senior did manage to retain his title as the nation's top Navy JROTC precision shooter. Frazier placed above all other individual Navy JROTC shooters in the precision class during CMP's All-Service Nationals, just as he did during CMP's Navy JROTC Service competition in February.
The team, which also includes first-year precision shooters Alex Landers, Alexander Hughes, Nolan Ripple, and Abigail Rigsby, finished ninth overall as a team in All-Service Nationals. They finished third among Navy JROTC Air Rifle Teams at All-Service.
"It was not the best showing," Varnadoe said, "but considering I've got three brand new team members out of the four, I'm still very pleased with their overall performance. Next year, they're going to be a pretty awesome team."
Luella has a more seasoned team in Jacob Brown, Jackson Bailey, Wesley White, Patrick Nelms, and Russell Mitchum, all third- and fourth-year precision shooters, according to Luella Air Rifle Team Coach Chief Tim Welch.
According to CMP standings, the veteran team finished first among Navy JROTC Air Rifle Teams, and a close fourth place overall, at its All-Service Nationals last weekend.
"It was a great event," said Welch. "I was really proud of the way the cadets performed over the course of three days."
Welch said he anticipates strong competition at this weekend's state finals, which will close out Georgia's high school air rifle season. Luella edged out the Henry County High School Air Rifle Team in semi-final competition on March 20, to cement its place in the 14-team state finals. The team, according to Welch, has practiced steadily this week in hopes of taking home a state championship.
Preparation is key, added Varnadoe. He said the role as air rifle team coach is limited by design because of the individual focus and mental strength required to compete.
"Once they go on the firing line, I cease to be coach, and it all falls back on training," Varnadoe said. "Every one of these students can shoot a rifle very well. It's the mental aspect that is going to determine the winners in this sport."