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Holding a steady aim for the top

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By Brandon Mattingly

For the Washington County 4-H Sharpshooters, winning has become a habit. Seemingly every shoot the group enters, numerous first-place finishes follow. The group has taken on a mindset that they can outshoot anybody in the state, and they’re proving it.

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“You have to have four shooters to make up a team,” said Dr. Don Flowers, the certified pistol coach. “Anytime we have participants in that age category, we almost always get a first-place team, meaning our top four will beat anybody else’s top four. That’s true in the two .22-rifle events, which are .22-sport and .22-target.”

Flowers’ pistol team doesn’t do bad for themselves either, being edged by only two points—527-525—by Nelson County at the recent state meet in Wilmore, but topping Oldham County, who Flowers said has become a mental rival for his team.

Flowers, whose sons Patrick and Andrew are part of the program, said Washington County has accumulated one of the largest Sharpshooters programs in the state, and if population were taken into account, it may be the biggest.

There are currently around 40 kids ranging from age 9 to 19 involved with the rifle, pistol, trap and archery teams, yet they still may be missing some of the best young shooters in the county.

“Many of the best shooters in the state are the females,” Flowers said. “We’d love to get more ladies on the team; that would be a definitely plus.”

Elise Barry is the lone female shooter in the .22 competitions, though there has been more female participation with archery. She and the boys are holding their own, though, racking up countless wins in meets across the state this year. When wins continued to roll in at the state competition, Flowers said it verified all of the hard work the kids put in this past year.

“It’s kind of recognition for their hard work. Some kids practice just once a week when we shoot, but more and more kids are shooting on their own with their parents’ supervision throughout the week,” Flowers aid. “I was talking to someone this week and his son was one of those who really stepped it up recently. He was part of one of the first-place teams at the Adair County shoot on Aug. 3, and once he was looking at that first-place team trophy in his hands he realized he can really do this.”

Rifle Coach Todd Hamilton, whose son Mason is a Sharpshooter, said anyone is capable of becoming a marksman, it’s just a matter of listening to guidance and putting it to use.

“Your ability means nothing,” Hamilton said. “If you have a good mental state and you’re coachable, I think you can take any kid in the world and make them shoot a good score.”

Last year’s shoots included trips to Spencer County, Adair County, Fleming County and even a Washington County-hosted event at the Mercer County Fish and Game Club.

“It all kind of culminates with the state meet,” Flowers said. “There are over 1,000 participants and over 300 rifle shooters at the state shoot. There are some Junior-Olympic caliber kids there and some of those kids that are shooting there will be going on to college on shooting scholarships, which is really cool.”

During the time of social media and with the next big thing in technology always around the corner, Flowers said it’s actually not a challenge to get kids to avert their attention to shooting, because they’re a group that would rather spend their time in nature anyway.

“If the sun’s out, these kids are outside doing something outdoors,” he said. “I don’t think you have, in this particular group, too many couch potatoes. They’re drawn toward something that maybe they’re already doing.”

Flowers said many of the youngsters start out shooting “grandpa’s old squirrel gun,” in .22-rifle competitions, but soon upgrade once their parents realize their passion about competing is real. It can be quite the investment, as Flowers pointed out that the number of schools offering shooting scholarships is growing all the time. Meets like the state competition, which is judged by the University of Kentucky rifle team, offer exposure for the kids to schools that are in attendance, and some of the youth have even been in contact with college shooters to find out what they need to do to be able to compete at the next level.

In fact, the Sharpshooters are trying to be even more prepared to accept college offers by hopefully adding air rifle to the competition list next year. As Flowers pointed out, UK offers scholarships to not only .22-rifle shooters, but also those skilled with an air rifle.

Implementing the air rifle would also allow the Sharpshooters to practice year-round by moving their work indoors. Hamilton said it would also be a benefit to any kids living in and around Springfield who didn’t previously have anywhere to practice outside of Sharpshooters-related events.

Washington County 4-H is looking to receive grant money from the National Rifle Association to go toward air rifles, or even air pistols.
Another new feature the Sharpshooters could be taking part in next year is the Appleseed program, which Bud’s Gun Supply in Lexington is hoping to host in January.

Appleseed teaches proper shooting form using the natural point of aim, while also telling the untold stories of the Revolutionary War. The trip falls in line with similar learning opportunities that the group has taken, such as a visit to the Frazier History Museum in Louisville.

With the group spending as much time together as it does, Flowers said the kids have become a close group regardless of their background.

“I can say that the kids are really good friends,” Flowers said. “It’s very unique that there are kids from the high school, North Washington, St. Dominic and there are other home-schooled kids other than just my two. It’s kind of an outlet for it to be a true county-representative team.”

Flowers and Hamilton also said that the organization as a whole has taught the kids about selflessness, as any number of the shooters at the various competitions they attend are more than willing to jump to assistance if a competititor’s equipment fails. The Washington County Sharpshooters even came to the aid of an opposing shooter who showed up at a competition wearing unapproved footwear. From shoes to guns, the Sharpshooters have each other’s back.

Making the Sharpshooters happen has taken a great deal of support from adults as well. Aside from Flowers and Hamilton, Jim Hatchett (rifle coach and a nationally certified instructor), John Towns (trap coach) and Stacey Barr (archery coach) have been instrumental in making the program happen each year. One of those helpers, coordinator Grace Hardin, who has been instrumental in making events happen, won’t be with the program much longer, though she’s going to lend a helping hand until she can be replaced.

“One person we absolutely could not have functioned without the last four years is Grace Hardin,” Flowers said. “She’s officially the coordinator, which means she took care of the paper work and making sure the registrations are in on time, and she has been an absolute jewel to work with. She’s going to be gone next year, so we’re going to miss her terribly.”

Still left on the agenda for 2013 is the club’s banquet on Oct. 22, where state awards will be handed out. The yearly Family Fun Day event has been scheduled for 1-3 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Barr Farm in Willisburg.