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Shoot, they're good: Middletown-based BB gun team wins state title in first year

By Dan Miller danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 4/19/17

For a brand new team to win a state championship in its first year — that’s a pretty good start.

A new youth BB gun team from the Middletown Hunter’s & Angler’s Club took first place …

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Shoot, they're good: Middletown-based BB gun team wins state title in first year

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For a brand new team to win a state championship in its first year — that’s a pretty good start.

A new youth BB gun team from the Middletown Hunter’s & Angler’s Club took first place in the state championship match held in Harrisburg on April 8.

One of the 10 shooters on the team — McKenna Logan of Hershey — was the top overall shooter in the entire state competition, said Dave Fisher of Campbelltown, who is the team coach. Another member of the team, Nick Suhr of Harrisburg, was the second best overall shooter in the state match.

That’s not the end of it. Seven of the 10 shooters who competed with the new Middletown team at the state match in Harrisburg are eligible to compete in the national BB gun championship match being held by Daisy Outdoor Products in Rogers, Arkansas, from June 30 to July 3.

Five of the seven shooters will be chosen to shoot in the national match, while two others will serve as alternates, Fisher said. The team is in the process of raising funds to cover the expenses of the trip, including the drive down and lodging while in Arkansas.

People can donate to help the team by contacting the Middletown Hunter’s & Angler’s Club, Fisher said. The team will be approaching businesses in the area to help sponsor the team’s trip to the national competition.

The team is part of an overall national program that is run through Daisy, maker of the 499 Avanti Champion model BB gun that is used in the competitions. The Avanti Champion is considered the most accurate BB gun in the world, Fisher said.

Fisher, whose full-time day job is in construction, had been active working with a youth BB gun team in Palmyra since 2006.

The youth BB gun teams are open to boys and girls ages 8 to 15. In 2016, Fisher’s own daughter had gotten too old to continue being on the Palmyra team, so Fisher began talking with some other parents about starting a new team that could include youths from two existing teams in Harrisburg and Palmyra if they preferred to compete here instead.

Fisher and the parents spread word of the new team through social media, and through the Middletown Hunter’s & Angler’s Club website. Kids interested in the team also talked it up in their schools.

Come October, 31 kids showed up for the first tryout. After the first lesson, which covered firing in the prone position, the group was down to 25. Most of the team members came from Harrisburg, the Elizabethtown and Middletown areas, and from Hummelstown.

The team had to deal with scheduling conflicts because the kids were all involved with other activities, so that whittled the number down further.

The team met on Tuesday and Friday evenings to practice in a building at the club. Each practice was devoted to shooting in the four positions — prone, sitting, standing and kneeling — at targets hung 5 meters away.

During each practice half of the group would be shooting, and the other half would be working with another adult coach from the club who would drill them on the written exam portion of the competition.

The new team practiced for several weeks to get ready for a series of match competitions against other teams which began in February with a match in Palmyra. There was a sectional match in Penns Valley in early March and a “spring fling” later in March in Boyerstown, before the state championship match in April.

The Middletown team won the Palmyra match and the spring fling, but didn’t win the match hosted by Penns Valley.

Besides these in-person matches, the Middletown team also competed in an online national league known as the Orion League, Fisher said. Over an eight-week period during the season, shooters from the Middletown team scanned in their targets online to compete with other youth BB gun teams from Tennessee, Texas and Georgia.

Competing in the “Distinguished” division, the Middletown team posted a 6-1 record in the online Orion League, which tied for best in their division in the whole country with a team from Houston, Fisher said. The Middletown team had a higher seasonal average so that was the tie-breaker, he added.

The matches typically work like this: All the shooters from all the teams take the written test, all at once in a big room.

Then the actual shooting begins. Members of each team take turns one after the other shooting in one of the four positions, standing for example. After all the team members have shot in the standing position, then all the team members shoot one after another in the next position, be it prone, sitting or kneeling. The match proceeds in this way until all the members of all the teams have shot in all four positions.

Fisher said the order of positions in the state competition was as follows — prone then standing then sitting then kneeling.

Many of the shooters on the new Middletown team had shooting experience from having competed on other teams in prior years, Fisher said. However, a lot of the other shooters on the new team had never shot before, or even touched a rifle.

“With one it took me two practices to get the girl to hold the gun,” Fisher said. “She shot it a couple of times.” After awhile she decided not to continue, but Fisher hopes she will try again when the new team forms up in the fall.

Three of the 10 members of the state championship team are girls. Several other girls stayed with the program even if they were not good enough to compete at the state level.

“The girls tend to listen a little bit better,” Fisher said. “The boys all think ‘I can do that’ but they don’t know what they are doing.”

The parents of most of the shooters came to every practice. Fisher said there is no way that he could have done this without the help of the parents.

“A parent is with the kid up on the line the whole time. What is unique about this is you can actually do this with your kid, not just drop them off at soccer and watch from the sidelines,” Fisher said. “You are actually right there with them adjusting the sights, calming them down, talking them through it.”

The program can be a stepping stone to advance to higher levels of shooting, such as air-rifle competitions or sporting clays.

This kind of program can even be the first step in a progression that leads to the U.S. Olympics.

Jamie Gray of Myerstown won a gold medal in shooting with the U.S. team in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She started with a youth BB gun team in Myerstown, said Fisher, who knows Gray’s parents and who has met Gray herself.

The program teaches the young shooters how to shoot properly and safely, habits that continue throughout their entire lives. The program also instills other positive traits such as self-discipline and self-confidence.

“This program is a way to show the benefits that can come out of shooting,” Fisher said.

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