CCHS rifle team heads into another season

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After an amazing season with four seniors, the Camden High rifle team isn’t “rebuilding” this year. That’s not how their coach, Lt. Col. Stephen Banta sees it.

“It’s never rebuild. It’s always just, next man up, and these kids have responded,” Banta said. “These kids who are shooting right now, they’re shooting as good or better than the team last year at this early in the stage. They’re young and they’re hungry.”

Last year’s precision shooting team was very good both in NJROTC and Georgia high school competitions. Two students qualified individually for state, three were offered the opportunity to shoot in college and the team had the fourth best average in the state. The CCHS team also finished third nationwide in the Navy competitions and qualified for the nationwide interservice championships before COVID-19 shutdown play.

The nine-student team — which breaks down into two four-person teams for competitions with an alternate who can compete individually — is shooting against dozens of schools in the Area 12 NJROTC contests and they’ve already qualified for the area championships. 

It’s a young team this year with two seniors and everyone else had shooting experience but not at this level, Banta said. Precision shooting isn’t what you might think. Modeled after Olympic style shooting, precision shooting uses air rifles fired at indoor ranges by contestants who must lay prone, kneel and standing, earning up to 100 points in each stance. They compete in both shoulder-to-shoulder matches where everyone is there in person and postal matches where everyone competes at their home ranges and compares scores.

“They’re young. They want to do well,” Banta said. “Like I told them when we got home last Saturday, ‘Be happy, be proud but don’t be satisfied. I’ll tell you when you can be satisfied.’ We just shot a match last night, a postal, and they shot the best match they’ve ever shot. They just keep getting better and better.”

Camden High has had an NJROTC shooting team for seven years, then moved into high school competitions too about three years ago. The students have risen to the top in both arenas, losing twice in area high school matches to Ware County, which is one of the best teams in the nation, Banta said.

Banta describes the foundation for Camden’s success as a three-legged stool: the students who want to learn and spend hours practicing, the parents who support their students and school administrators who support the program.

“It’s because of those three that we’re able to have the success that we’re having right now,” Banta said.

There’s still more chances for success this school year as the NJROTC season continues and the high school season opens in January. As they prepare, Banta encourages each student to focus on the positive and self-improvement.

“I tell the kids, ‘Don’t think about the bad shot. Think about nine other good shots you made because if you think about the bad shot, what are you going to do? You’ll make another bad shot.’ Positive reinforcement and that’s the thing you have to do. You’ve got to stay positive. … Don’t tell me what you did wrong. Tell me what you did right.”