By Russ Friend - Development & Events Coordinator
ISRA Junior Highpower Program
Photos by Mike Gaynor
My first encounter with the ISRA’s Junior Highpower Program happened ten years ago. I had purchased an M1 rifle through the CMP by going to monthly match/clinics at the Sycamore Sportsman’s Club just north of Dekalb. Some months I would bring my 10 year old sons with me to watch as we shot. One month twin brothers by the name of Ross and Grant James came to shoot. They had AR-15 rifles and more shooting gear than most of the adult shooters. The match typically ended just before noon. By then the Sun had warmed the day enough for everyone to remove their outer coats and sweatshirts. Ross and Grant were wearing T-shirts that said “Illinois Hard Dog” with a logo of a Marine Corps bulldog topped with a campaign hat and cigar while holding an AR-15/M16 rifle.
Out of curiosity I asked them what that was all about. It was then that I first heard of the ISRA’s Junior Highpower Program for age 13 to 20 youth. They explained that they were loaned the gear and ammo so they could compete. Both were excellent marksman with scores at the top of competition. My kids were still too young for the program, but I kept the James brothers in mind with the intent of pursuing the program if any of my kids wanted to try it.
When my son, Andrew, was not quite 12 I took him to Camp Perry to see if he could participate in the CMP-US Army Marksmanship Unit’s Small Arms Firing School (SAFS) for Rifle. He brought his scores from the match/clinics at Sycamore Sportsman’s Club to show as proof of his interest and initial training. We met with Gary Anderson, the Director of the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Gary very quietly and respectfully asked Andrew about his shooting experiences thus far. Andrew told him that he really enjoyed it and wanted to learn more. At the end of the meeting, Gary picked up a pen and signed the permission slip to allow Andrew to take the course. By his demeanor you would never guess that he is a former Nebraska state legislator and the only shooter to win two consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 300 meter rifle event before it was discontinued. He also won seven World Championships. As a youth on the family farm he taught himself to shoot by developing his own dry-fire exercises, since the cost of ammunition was high during the war years.
When Andrew turned 13 I remembered that the Grant brothers had been in the Junior Highpower Program. They had gone on the University of Wisconsin to work on engineering degrees, but their mom was still at home in Dekalb. She gave me Ted Mazurski’s phone number. Ted had a son, Paul, and daughter, Lindsey, in the program and was still the Chairman after they aged out. Note that both Paul and Lindsey were and are outstanding marksman. Both will come to the National Matches at Camp Perry to compete on the Illinois adult teams from time to time.
Ted informed me that the team meeting was coming up in March that year and that Andrew needed to have his own FOID and junior memberships in the NRA and ISRA. At that time much of the team gear was beginning to show wear. Even the rifle that Andrew received had some “issues”. Eventually, that rifle had a major overhaul.
The following season Ted felt it was his time to step down and let another person take the job of Chairman. Mike Neubauer took over while his son, Nash, was quickly becoming a top shooter. Nash earned his Distinguished Rifleman Badge from the CMP and later was the top junior shooter in the prestigious President’s One Hundred National Trophy Match. During those years we found out that Ross and Grant James had joined the rowing team at the University of Wisconsin and had become NCAA champions. Now they had been selected for the United States Olympic Rowing Team to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was beginning to look like a pattern was forming as a result of the discipline needed to compete as junior marksman.
Four years ago Mike was given a promotion that meant leaving Illinois. He asked the parents to consider taking over for him. I could see immediately that if no one stepped up that we could lose the program. Not really knowing what it entailed, I volunteered. It has taken a lot of my time and effort to not only keep the program going, but improve it wherever possible. Financially, the credit goes to our juniors who have done their best to sell raffle tickets. Also, credit goes to Ted Mazurski who has worked aggressively in the background to secure grants from the NRA and CMP. This has allowed us to replace all the old worn gear and rifles. For the 2016 season we have been able to acquire enough range carts to equip every member of the team. The Illinois Hard Dogs are now the best equipped junior team in the country.
Our current team has two excellent marksmen as well. Alex Vitous and Liam McKenna have both earned their CMP Distinguished Marksman Badges and both have received college scholarships from the CMP. Both came in at 2nd Place in the 2015 National Trophy Junior Team Match. Liam earned his way onto the National Junior Rifle Team with an aggregate score of 1227-28X.
We, as members of the ISRA, need to see the value of our junior program and continue to support it. Today’s junior competitors are the future of shooting sports. Their participation in matches where they compete against civilian adults and our military marksman draws out the best in them. When you participate in a match with junior shooters remember to be patient with them. Be encouraging. Above all, if you are an accomplished shooter, be humble and remember what it was like when you started.
If you’d like to see some of our juniors in action, check the Ten-State Schedule on illinoishighpower.org and come to one of the highpower matches on a Saturday or Sunday at the ISRA Range.