Walhalla JROTC rifle athletes maintain a colorful tradition at the shooting range

Walhalla athletes High The School Army JROTC rifle team from Walhalla, South Carolina truly stands out on the range, not only for their performances, but also for their unique rifles on the firing line.

The stocks are beautiful, rich displays of enthusiasm and perseverance, handcrafted for the cadet who earned every drop of color. It’s a team tradition established nearly a decade ago that has kept Walhalla Razorback athletes aiming toward exciting ambition, and it’s fun to watch, too.

In April, the team competed in the 2023 JROTC Service Championship series that was held in Ohio, Alabama, and Utah. The event, run by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), is a three-position precision and sport air rifle competition for high school athletes. Walhalla’s Elaine Saint placed third overall in the sport class at the Ohio match (eighth overall out of nearly 300 Army JROTC competitors among the three places), while teammate Keagan Dean also finished in the top 10 athletes in Ohio.

COL Kevin Mangan, head coach of the rifle team, was there to witness it all. He has been training at Walhalla for 17 years, always encouraging his athletes to reach higher by setting goals, no matter how big or small.

“Easy, tangible goals can be a great motivator, from beginners to the most advanced athletes,” he explained. “Sometimes, it can be something as simple as, ‘Shoot a PR (personal record) and you’ll get a vote on where we eat on a road trip.'”

Other times, the goal is a bit more colorful.

The rifles are decorated by Mangan’s own family and by the Walhalla art department.

The team’s ingenious rifle tradition was on display eight years ago when one of Walhalla’s cadets, Matthew Smith, placed in the JROTC Service Championships. After his success, he asked his trainer if he could paint and customize his stock. To Smith’s delight, Mangan said yes.

Matthew’s chosen theme was a Gator Claw to show his love for his favorite college team, the Florida Gators. Matt Carroll, who, at the time, ran the air gun range at CMP’s southern Alabama location, designed the rifle himself.

Other team members liked the idea of ​​customizing a rifle stock so much that they asked their trainer if they could decorate their own rifles. Mangan was on board with the idea, but with a catch.

Walhalla JROTC Razorback Rifle Team Painted Rifle Stocks

“I did the standard: shoot a 530 at a sports game and you can customize your stock,” he explained.

Mangan thought that was a high enough mark that only one cadet a year could achieve it, but, to his surprise and delight, the athletes began working towards the score and achieving it.

“They cared more about fulfilling the goal than the results of the game,” he joked.

Now, achieving the honor of a painted rifle stock has become the primary goal for college athletes. This season alone, four students have earned their custom actions, including two freshman athletes, which has never happened in the lore’s history.

Elaine Saint (right) placed third overall at the 2023 JROTC Service Championship Ohio location.

“It sets as the threshold for success,” Mangan said of the paint on the rifle. “We also have smaller goals set, like a score of 200 and you’re assigned a rifle, and at 250, you name your rifle, just little things to keep working on.”

COL Mangan has trained the Walhalla Razorback Rifle team for 17 years.

Once an athlete reaches the score of 530, they can choose the art theme on the rifle stock. Mangan’s wife and daughters handle the graphic work along with Walhalla’s art department. Of He Lion King to the Chronicles of Narnia to hunter x hunterEach athlete’s theme represents their own personalities and the hard work they have put in on the court.

To commemorate the tradition of the rifle team, Walhalla High School has assigned a trophy case in the student commons area to display the stock of graduating athletes. So far, there have been 11 painted rifles, with more being added every year.

“It has become an accomplishment for the Walhalla JROTC rifle team,” Mangan said.

Art chosen by each athlete showcases their individual interests in a colorful way.

Despite the emphasis on performance milestones, Mangan isn’t interested in how well his athletes score; there’s a deeper goal to be met in order to be a successful Razorback.

“Scores are good, but how good of a teammate are you?” Mangan said.

“Team results are directly affected by supporting each other when things aren’t going well,” he continued. “Accept the ride and enjoy the experience instead of a score that defines who you are.”

What started as a simple question has spawned lasting inspiration within the Walhalla rifle team. However, for Mangan, nothing stands out more vibrantly than true sportsmanship.

The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearms safety and marksmanship training and the promotion of marksmanship competition for United States citizens. To learn more about the CMP and its programs, log on to www.TheCMP.org.