Marshall High School senior Elijah Garza never wanted to be part of anything in high school, but a friend convinced him to try out for the Navy JROTC precision air rifle team. “It changed my outlook on high school,” Garza says.
Now he’s part of the five-member team crowned Navy National Champions earlier this spring. They won the title at the championships in Alabama hosted by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), and qualified to compete against the five top high school teams from all service branches – Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines. At the All-Service National Championships at the end of March, the team finished second and even set a Navy-record in team score.
Success is that much sweeter as the team is one of the “new kids on the block” and bested powerhouse programs that have won championships before.
“It makes me proud that we came out of nowhere to win,” says senior Ingrid Gulmar.
Pictured at competition are students Destiny Silva, Ingrid Gulmar, Colin Clark, Elijah Garza and Yessenia Montavlo with their instructor Master Chief Edward Smith.
The highest a Marshall team had placed in previous years was sixth place. Even as she stares at the huge trophy, junior Destiny Silva is still surprised by their accomplishments.
“We actually did this,” Silva says. “It took so many hours of hard work. I can’t believe it.”
Though champions today, most members came to the team with limited experience and some had never done any type of shooting before. All quickly realized there would be a steep learning curve.
“Air rifle is a sport and it’s not easy,” says Gulmar. “It’s a lot harder than it looks. It takes practice and motivation to be successful.”
Air rifles weigh about 10 pounds each and students wear full shooting equipment. Competition involves shooting 20 shots each in three different positions from a distance of 10 meters – prone (laying down), kneeling, and standing up. Each bullseye earns 10 points, with 600 being the elusive perfect score.
“You’ve got to make each shot count,” says Garza. “You don’t want to move a muscle. You want to be the one that gets the perfect score.”
The Marshall team practices about 10 hours a week in a converted portable building on their campus that has five lanes. It’s not a fancy set up but students will tell you that in their sport – equivalent to NCAA and Olympic-level rifle competition – mentality trumps mechanics and equipment. The slightest movement, breath, or heartbeat can make all the difference.
“You can improve so much by doing so little – focusing on your breathing and how you’re standing,” Silva says. “It requires a lot of patience and taking time in what you do.”
“Honestly, your mentality is everything,” says senior Yessenia Montalvo. “You have to have self-discipline.”
The three seniors on the team will graduate in June, with air rifle scholarships in hand, but instructors say that they are most proud of the life skills students will take with them.
“Being part of this air rifle team teaches students grit – failure, success, and perseverance,” says Master Chief (Ret.) Edward Smith. “Discipline is key. You have to find a way to control everything.”
Each year about 60 students try out and about 15 make the combined precision and sporter level teams. Replicating this year’s success will be a tall order, but a new standard has been set for the program.
“It shows them that with hard work, eventually it will pay off,” says Smith.
Marshall is the only Naval JROTC program in Northside ISD. Clark, O’Connor, and Warren high schools compete as Air Force JROTC teams in air rifle.