By Bill Tamburrino
Ramona High School’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps has another trophy in its large collection of hardware.
The NJROTC unit has a new team: Shoulder to Shoulder Air Rifle Competition. Shooters shoot air rifles from three positions: standing, kneeling and prone at inch and a half targets at a distance of 10 meters. It took a while to get a team to compete but once the team got going it did very well.
Cadets Spenser Jones, Jackson Rath, Carlo Silva and Wyatt Willingsley qualified at Coronado High School Shoulder to Shoulder Tournament by shooting a school record 865 out of a possible 1,000 to take third place and earned a trip to the California and Arizona state championships at Reseda High School. At Reseda Ramona tied for sixth place, but took seventh place due to a tie-breaker.
Senior Spenser Jones took third place overall. He won the standing 10-meter competition and earned a trip to the Navy National Championships at Camp Perry in Ohio from Feb. 11-15.
Jones started shooting as a freshman. “At that time we didn’t do shoulder to shoulder meets, we did postal scoring,” he said. “You shot in front of your NSI and the score sheets were mailed to be scored. We didn’t have enough cadets to have a team.”
Jones moved to Texas as a sophomore and competed for an Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps team. He shot every day and took second in standing competition and third in kneeling in Texas.
“It really improved my techniques and my confidence,” he said.
Of the three shooting positions standing is the most difficult.
Jones returned to Ramona for his junior year and that really improved the unit’s technique and scores.
Jones is an honor student with a 3.7 grade point average and 1700 SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) score. He has received an ROTC scholarship and is deciding which college he wants to attend. He is waiting to see if he will receive an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., aka Navy.
He wants to pursue a career in the Navy in Naval Special Warfare or naval aviation.
“I don’t say this too often, but Spenser has what it takes to make it as a SEAL (Sea, Air, Land),” said Cmdr. Mike Ernst, RHS NJROTC teacher. “He went out for water polo and swimming because he was told that it would improve his chances of being a SEAL. He has the grades and leadership qualities, and he is in top physical condition. And he wants it!”
Jones said that his father, Randy, has supported all of his NJROTC activities and is happy with his goals of becoming a naval officer.
Just fielding a team was a challenge and took a lot of work. Ernst and CPO Bob Richardson had to receive masters’ certificates from the Civilian Marksmanship Program for safety and instructional purposes. Then there were other obstacles.
“After Ramona High School almost disbanded NJROTC, everything we had was given away to other units,” said Ernst. “At that time we had pump action air rifles and I had to go to other schools to get the ones we gave them back. It is difficult to do well with pump rifles because it is important that the shooters are relaxed when they shoot. The VFW helped us out greatly and purchased CO2 rifles for us so that we could compete at a higher level.”
Then they had to find a safe place to practice.
“We moved from the ceramics and welding classrooms and another classroom or two,” said Ernst. “We had to move all of the furniture every time we practiced. We finally landed at the Agriculture Barn. It is a little short, but it is close and we don’t have to move furniture every practice.”
It took time to build up the team, continued Ernst.
“We put in an announcement, and about 25 cadets showed an interest. But we practice at 0530 (5:30 a.m.) and it is cold and that cut our numbers.”
To even try out, the cadets had to score 90 percent or better on a safety test. “Safety is our main concern,” said Ernst. “Any time the rifle is not being used in competition, a CBI (clear barrel indicator) must be visible in the rifle.”
A CBI is a bright orange plastic cord that is placed in the barrel and makes it impossible to shoot a pellet. It is easily seen by all.
Those who survived were winners. Air rifle marksmanship is actually an Olympic sport, and 52 colleges and universities actually give scholarships. If Jones doesn’t receive an appointment to an academy, he will look into colleges that have air rifle teams.
Even though the NJROTC classrooms at RHS are running out of room for trophies, Ramona’s NJROTC unit is not about winning trophies. It is about making winners, and the latest team, the Shoulder to Shoulder Air Rifle Competition Team, is an example.