It’s hard not to think, “Aim small, miss small”—probably the most quoted Mel Gibson line from the movie “The Patriot”—at the Daisy National Championships, partly because it’s scheduled on or near Independence Day every year. The timing eases travel/work schedules for the parent and coach volunteers who attend, but young shooters hitting tiny X-rings at 5 meters with an iron-sighted BB gun from four different handheld positions do a good job mirroring the film’s line.
Fireworks and patriotism aside, the skills that set the foundation for a successful education and career are alive, well and on display at the event annually. Subscribe to today’s headlines and you might assume respect for others and even the patience to ride an airplane for a few hours are relics of the past, but these youths prove otherwise—both on and off the firing line. Rumors that the entire next generation has a short attention span because it’s hooked on social media’s instant gratification are also dispelled by the unmoving concentration on targets during this event. And discipline and firearm safety go hand in hand.
If it all sounds like a powerful inoculation for what’s ailing society, it is, but what is it that possesses an 8- to 15-year old to join a team and shoot competitively? Sometimes the answer’s simple. Virginia’s Hunter Skelton, who is 11, explained he does it, “Because I get to travel a lot and meet friends.” His 14-year-old teammate on Rockingham County 4-H’s Rockin’ Shots, Corbin Barr, looks at it from a slightly older perspective. “It’s a great way to get into college,” he said. Ten-year old Samuel Martin is also on the squad, although he admits he’s angling to qualify for the Junior Olympics and Olympics in a shooting discipline. Twelve-year-old Tennisa Childress was in Rogers, Arkansas, for the second time. The Pauldine County (GA) Shooting Stars member said, “It gives you something to do,” and she particularly likes to “beat the boys.”
Reasons for signing up and coming back may vary, but the coaches seem agree the education is about much more than just marksmanship. “It really teaches them a lot about gun safety and the importance of being a team—how to work together,” explained Dave Stone, from the Newport Royal Rangers out of Pennsylvania. “Set your sights on a goal and keep working on it. The more you practice, the better you get at it.”
“Respect, discipline, obtaining goals, following instruction, teamwork,” said Michael Cralle, coach on the Texas’ Permian Basin Young Guns. “We come as a team, we shoot as a team.” When asked about focus and putting failure behind, he tells his youths, “The only shot that matters is this shot.”
All the parents I interviewed concurred their kids are having fun—and eager to attend practice and matches—but they have slightly different perspectives. Amy Powell, parent on the Lake Houston (TX) 4-H Team, signed her 12-year-old son up when he asked this year, although there were reservations. “I have learned a lot as a parent,” she said. “I did not grow up around guns.” As for the impact of his involvement, she explained, “It teaches them how to be safe with guns and the use of guns. It’s made him more outgoing and more confident in himself.” Anna Rubio has two youngsters on the same team. They’ve been pulling triggers at the firing line for two years and she said, “They’re more focused” in their schoolwork. Natasha Skelton said the shooting program is beneficial because, “There’s a lot of room to set goals and accomplish goals. He [Hunter] enjoys his team very much.”
The Daisy National BB Gun Championships include a lot more than world-class competition from the standing, sitting, kneeling and prone positions, though. For one thing, there’s a gun safety exam that’s also weighed in overall results, and this year nearly 70 shooters scored 100 percent on the written test.
Other scheduled events—tailored to enhance the children’s experience and make their prestigious qualification the once-in-a-lifetime trip they’ve earned—include a painted gun competition the first day of practice. Winners are announced during opening night’s annual Parade of Champions, where each team gets to stand on the podium to be honored and get their photos taken.
The wheeling and dealing is fast and furious at the annual Barter Bar, where kids trade trinkets and souvenirs from their respective regions of the country. The event’s grown into one of the favorites among the youths and adults, and it never fails to build into a Mardi Gras atmosphere (without the vices, of course). Even after the closing ceremonies and presentation of team and individual medals, Daisy goes a step further by holding a night at a local water park for the young shooters as an informal parting celebration. As always, the host hotel—Embassy Suites at the Convention Center in Rogers—did a wonderful job and, believe it or not, the kids left it cleaner than they found it.
This year South Dakota’s Pierre Junior Sportsmen repeated their 2016 feat, and took home team gold medals. Their score was 2383-85. Walton County (GA) 4-H claimed silver with 2369-76 and Johnson County (KS) 4-H rounded out the top three, earning bronze with 2368-71.
Justin Merriman, Pierre Junior Sportsmen, took the individual gold medal, posting a score of 489-27. Individual silver went to Ben Rogers of Johnson County 4-H with a 486-20 and Lucy Peters (Walton County 4-H) scored bronze at 481-21. You can find your favorite shooter’s score and finishing position on OrionResults.com.
What did attendees think of this year’s event? “It’s kind of amazing to me,” Rubio said. “I didn’t realize how many teams.”
“This is awesome,” said Arlene Childress. Championship first-timer Cralle said, “I’m impressed with the organization and the way it’s run.” Natasha Skelton commented on Daisy, “I think they do an excellent job. It’s all about the kids.”
Full details on the 2018 Daisy National BB Gun Championships will be posted soon, and now’s the time to sign up that youngster. Waiting lists are not rare, and no one gets on the firing line before they’ve learned firearm safety. Skelton advised, “I would encourage any parent to consider it. Everyone is focused on helping the kids do their best.”