Bill Shank says he’s putting bricks in his pockets to keep from floating away.
Why? Because five members of the rifle team he coaches have been invited to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to perform for U.S. Junior Olympic Team coaches, that’s why.
“We’ve had shooters invited out there before, but only in ones and twos,” said Shank, the long-time coach of the Putnam County Gun Club Junior Smallbore Team. “I was astounded when I got the news that five of our kids had qualified.”
Two of the shooters, Mitchell Nelson and Bryce Ward, qualified for the smallbore portion of the event. All five shooters — Nelson, Ward, Zach Jackson, Grant Kimberling and Owen Kimberling — qualified for the air-rifle portion.
Nationwide, only 67 shooters qualified for smallbore, and 171 qualified for air rifle. They qualified by posting high scores during rifle competitions.
Nelson, who shoots for the top-ranked University of Kentucky squad, posted a 577 (of a possible 600) in smallbore and 581 (also of a possible 600) in air rifle.
Ward, who shoots for 14th-ranked Morehead State, fired a 566 in smallbore and a 574 in air rifle.
Jackson, a student at Scott High School in Boone County, posted a 579 in air rifle. Grant Kimberling, who goes to Hurricane High, shot a 570. His brother, Owen, had a 562.
Shank called the invitations “the first step in the process” toward possible selection for the Junior Olympic team.
“This is a step up the ladder,” Shank said. “I think this gives the [Junior Olympic] coaches a chance to see these shooters in action and evaluate them.”
Nelson and Ward were invited to shoot last year, but only in air rifle. Shank said that was the only time the Putnam County team ever had more than one qualifier in a given year.
“I thought that was great at the time,” he said. “You can imagine how I feel now.”
Three current members of the team are currently on collegiate rifle squads — Nelson at Kentucky, Ward at Morehead State, and Noah Barker at West Virginia.
The Putnam County team got its start 19 years ago, when several members of the Putnam County Gun Club decided to start teaching precision rifle technique to young people. With donations from local sources and funding from the National Rifle Association’s Civilian Marksmanship Program, they began acquiring rifles, ammunition and all the other gear associated with the discipline.
It costs team members nothing to get started. The club supplies the guns, the ammunition, the targets and all the other basic equipment.
Newcomers start with the fundamentals — how to handle firearms safely and how to properly conduct themselves while at the range or on the firing line. At first, they shoot from the prone position, with the rifle supported on sandbags.
When they prove they can score 185 to 188 out of 200 on a standard 50-yard NRA target, the team’s coaches take away the sandbags and equip them with the gear they’ll use in competitions — a shooting jacket, a padded glove and a rifle sling.
The five invitees to Colorado Springs all started out that way, with Shank showing them the basics.
“It’s rewarding to see how far they’ve come in so few years,” Shank said. “Their parents can be no prouder of them than I am. My pride in their achievements knows no bounds.”