It’s standing room only today at the Centralia Rifle Club as the minimal seating in the lobby has filled quickly.
The large majority of individuals settled around the various tables are members of the Black Hills High School Rifle Team. A quick headcount indicates the Wolves have a strong turnout this season.
“The varsity is actually inside shooting right now,” states Black Hills assistant coach Mike Hobbick as he points to a door behind him that leads into the shooting range. “The JV is in there too.”
As it turns out, the large number of team members in the lobby only represent a fraction of this year’s squad as the Wolves saw their participation numbers dramatically spike this past season.
“I don’t know why,” head coach Kent Dunn said. “But we’re really happy with it. We just had a great influx this year.”
Inside the shooting range, Dunn and a handful of parent volunteers are present, but the venue’s is primarily filled with Black Hills’ shooters, each quietly zeroed in and meticulously lining up their next shots.
“Normally this time of year we drop off to 10 shooters, which is the minimum you can have for a team,” Dunn said. “You always have an attrition rate, but this year we haven’t had that problem. We started the year with 30-plus students. By the time we finally got down to actually firing on the range we were in the 20s. The numbers have stayed pretty good this year.”
The team recently closed out its season – which begins in early November and runs through the first part of March – and while the off-season looms, the team is still focused on targets, albeit significantly different ones than they shoot at.
The team’s new target is fundraising.
The increased student interest in the sport is a welcome one, but the Wolves have quickly surpassed their team resources.
“It’s hard to accommodate everyone right now,” Hobbick said. “We continue to get donations and the fundraising will provide equipment for next year’s team.”
Black Hills competes in the Northwest Evergreen High School Rifle League along with Tumwater, Centralia, W.F. West and Shelton. It is one of a few high school rifle leagues remaining in the state.
The team trains with .22 caliber bolt action rifles, a single-shot Olympic style rifle considered the safest type of firearm and the standard for high school, college and Olympic competition.
Team members participate in shooting from the prone position, standing/off hand and kneeling.
“This type is shooting is something a lot of people don’t understand,” Dunn said. “It’s the discipline of the whole thing. It’s quite different than a lot of other shooting competitions.”
The season consists of 10 matches and a year-end meet where the top five finishers from each school compete against each other in a league final.
Black Hills’ top five shooters this season were sophomores Kaytee Crook, Pacific Hobbick and Nigel Bradwin, and seniors Colin Smith and Kawika Fields.
“Precision target shooting of any caliber is intense,” Hobbick said. “It takes a lot of discipline. Kaytee has been our best shooter this year. She’s very driven and very dedicated to everything she does, not just shooting. She leaves here to go to piano lessons. All these kids are doing multiple things and their applying that same dedication to everything they do.”
While Crook and the other top shooters from the squad bring experience to the sport, more than half of this year’s Black Hills roster was made up of first-time shooters, an aspect which Hobbick finds encouraging when teaching an introduction to firearms.
“We definitely have many new kids on the team this year. I think we have around 14,” Hobbick said. “I bet just less than half have never shot before, which is great because they learn good habits to start instead of us trying to break the bad habits they already have.”
Added Dunn, “Our primarily focus is always safety. Everyone has to pass a safety test before they go out on the range and we make sure they get 100 percent.”
In addition to grants from the Midway USA Foundation, which matches donations dollar-for-dollar through a program established by the local Ducks Unlimited chapter, and Friends of the NRA, the team’s fundraising efforts have generated more than $2,200 this year. Black Hills is also working with Tumwater High School to receive funding for an electronic scoring system through its gofundme page.
“I like the position we are in with the team. We have a great group this year and will have a lot of them coming back next season,” Dunn said. “The kids really learn personal discipline and the importance of hard work here. There’s a lot of positives.”