Monroe County and the surrounding areas have traditionally been dubbed baseball counties, with many traditionally rich and successful prep and league programs making their marks on Southern Illinois. But one sport is making itself known in these parts, while flying under the radar.
The local shooting scene was sparked once again this past month when locals Jonah Munsell and Mason Ingram of Waterloo helped lead the Arnold Junior Shooters to the Scholastic Pistol Program National Championship title in Sparta July 20. With more than 47 teams total participating, it was one of the largest Youth Action Pistol events ever held in the U.S.
But they are not the only ones raking in the hardware. The Waterloo Lead Heads have also been targeting success. In June, Waterloo High School senior Brittany Mehner became the state trap champion, winning the ladies division and placing third in the varsity division at the State Trap Shooting Championships in Sparta. Fellow WHS senior Megan Vogt placed third in the ladies division, as well.
In that very same state tournament, Waterloo’s junior team took third place, while the varsity team has placed second in multiple Southern Illinois Youth Sport Shooting Association shoots this spring.
To add to the local awards, Gibault’s Phillip G. Poston was named to the 2013 First Team U.S. All-American for his shooting skills.
Poston is one of six shooters in the U.S. to make the First Team Junior U.S. All American Skeet Team and the only shooter in Illinois to make the team. Shooters with the highest averages and major wins at large events make this team.
Among his many accomplishments — Poston was ranked second in the country in his age division this spring and has won two professional tournaments.
Arnold’s assistant coach Kendal Newbern of Waterloo said he is definitely seeing more interest in the sport and an increased awareness of firearm safety.
“I think the firearms are becoming acceptable,” Newbern explained.
As a private instructor, Newbern says he sees a lot of father-daughter duos and that it is a sport, much like golf, that can be played individually and throughout a person’s lifetime.
He also says he notices today’s generation of youth picking up the sport quickly and easily.
“Kids have great eye-hand coordination because they play video games,” Newbern said.
The kids in the Arnold Junior Shooters that Newbern helps coach have picked up the sport quickly as well.
“We took them and started them off without any skill,” Newbern added, stating that the team’s instructors first put the kids through safety classes and help them gain familiarity with firearms. Then they start on a small scale, hitting plate targets, and progress as they get comfortable.
“I am always impressed with their talent, but also with the safe and respectful way in which they handle their guns,” Jonah’s mother, Carrie Munsell, told the Republic-Times.
More impressive yet, after just a year and-a-half in existence, the team escalated itself to a national title.
Competitions in the Scholastic Pistol Program consist of individuals hitting about five metal plate targets of various widths and at various distances in a timed event. Each event is called a stage and they are counted toward a total team time.
Newbern says he has seen Ingram complete stages in as little as four seconds. (You can see Ingram’s skills in a video at, http://youtu.be/BkKT2GJAf-8/.)
The Pistol Program is also broken down into junior and senior levels, with junior participants consisting of kids ages 12-15 competing with .22 caliber Rimfire pistols. Senior participants ranging from 15 to 19 years old compete with .9 millimeter Glocks or Smith & Wessons.
“They demand respect,” Newbern says of the Pistol Club’s approach to firearms, explaining that teams are not allowed to wear camouflage and that they are required to wear uniforms as a team.
“We are not training them for the military,” Newbern said, adding that they do not shoot at human silhouettes, but at target plates.
“It’s a sport.”
A sport that is now spreading throughout the collegiate level, with opportunities for kids to earn scholarships and compete at an amateur level after high school. And, once again, much like golf, it has numerous opportunities for girls to earn scholarships.
“Women are much better shots than men,” Newbern said. In his time as an instructor, he says he has seen women are picking up the sport more easily than men most of the time.
The Scholastic Pistol Program is a year-round program with shoots about once a month.
Both Munsell and Ingram graduated from Waterloo this spring and look to continue the sport.
Munsell is planning on attending the University of Missouri and joining Navy ROTC, which has a collegiate shotgun/rifle team, but no pistol team, according to his mother. He hopes to start a pistol team and compete against the collegiate national champions from the University of Kentucky, while Ingram is going to Southwestern Illinois College in the fall and is looking at a possible career in law-enforcement.
Check out a video of Munsell shooting a stage just seconds: