It only took four years for Nation Ford’s JROTC air rifle program to rise from infancy to national prominence, but the team continues to improve and rewrite the history books under the leadership of Sean Mulcahy.
The team achieved national level prominence in 2012, but on Feb. 12-14 won its fifth consecutive Marine Corps national championship in Anniston, Ala., setting a new standard of shooting in the process.
“I have some great kids with great character,” said Mulcahy, who retired from the Marine Corps in 2008 after a 30-year active duty career.
“They’re very unselfish, polite and courteous, and that makes it very fun and easy to coach. But these kids are really good.”
The Nation Ford A Team is comprised of juniors Levi Carlson, Marcus Stallings, second-year shooter Morgan Pench and William Jaeger, the team’s lone senior, and they helped carry on what’s becoming a winning tradition for the school’s air rifle team.
“Almost every match we go to now, we’re breaking records,” Mulcahy said.
“I think Levi set the national record for standing (at a tournament this weekend), so we’re getting to the point that every time they shoot they’re breaking records. These kids are good, they’re just amazing.”
But the success of the rifle team has been achieved through discipline, character and commitment. Mulcahy is demanding of his shooters. He schedules 10 practices a week – five before and five after school – and requires his shooters to attend at least five while maintaining their grades and staying out of trouble.
The work is tedious, but for the 19 members of the rifle team – and for members of the five other competitive Nation Ford teams including the orienteering, drill, academic, computer defense and athletic teams – it is rewarding.
“You have to be committed,” Mulcahy said. “It’s a very monotonous sport. You have to be quiet when you’re trying to focus. It’s not a very social sport when you’re competing. Now when it’s over they talk like crazy, but it takes a lot of focus and discipline. You have to be mature and there’s a great mental aspect to shooting.”
Mulcahy says it’s the focus on the mental aspect is what separates Nation Ford’s team.
The tournaments are two-day events and are very intense and competitive. Teams are made up of four shooters who get 60 shots per day and 120 for the tournament.
Scores are kept electronically by a sound acoustic system, which are state-of-the-art and accurate to within a 10th of a millimeter.
The shooters have to be accurate, too. A perfect score is 10, which is achieved by fully wiping clean a bullseye that is a half-millimeter dot.
The Nation Ford team fired 77 inner 10s – or perfect shots – at the Marine Corps championships. Of a possible 4,800 points they recorded 2,207 on the first day, which broke their national record of 2,193 that they set last year, becoming the only team in the nation in any of the four service divisions to have ever shot more than 2,200 points.
Mulcahy said the team didn’t shoot as well in the second day, but well enough to add to their trophy collection another Marine Corps championship by earning a nine point win.
“It’s very competitive,” Mulcahy said. “We shot over 4,300 points and to win by nine is extremely close and extremely competitive. It almost comes down to the last shot, so these kids have to remain focused on each shot.”
Nation Ford’s B Team took seventh in the nation, so the Falcons have plenty of options heading into next weekend’s all-service championship where the four service divisions top seven teams will compete. It’s held in Anniston, Ala. and Nation Ford is one of the favorites to take the title.
Mulcahy credits his kids – who sacrifice hours of time each week perfecting their crafts and achieving a level of discipline few shooters from around the country can match.
“A great shooter resets, puts the rifle down and start shot pattern again,” Mulcahy said. “Our top shooters do it, but it’s hard to do, because kids want immediate gratitude. That helps us eliminate bad shots. All of my kids shoot 10s, but to win you have to eliminate the fives, sixes and sevens and make it nines and 10s. That what separates us.”
No matter what happens the rest of the year and at next weekend’s all-service championships, Mulcahy said his program will carry its success forward and be a national competitor for years to come.
“We have some first-year shooters who are on a national level already,” he said. “We only have one senior, so we will have an equally good if not better team next year because we have everyone back. I tell them whatever records we set this year, we’re going to breaking it next year.”