Three members of Allatoona High School’s air rifle team, all of whom are female, are also heavily involved in the school’s fine arts programs.
Sarah Emery joined the team her freshman year and the 12th grader also sings in the school chorus.
Junior Ann Clay has played the viola since sixth grade, is learning piano on her own and has shot on the team for three years.
Alana Kelly, who has played cello for the past three years, tried out for the rifle team in August when searching for a sport in which she could participate as a freshman.
“I’ve joked around that we aren’t going to have tryouts next year, I’m just going to go up and talk to the freshman fine arts girls and see who wanted to compete,” said Coach Kirk Ware, who’s been in charge of the air rifle team at Allatoona since the school opened five years ago.
Emery, Clay and Kelly are three of eight students competing on the team and, according to Ware, some of his best competitors.
“Ann and Sarah are without a doubt our top two this year. Ann has already automatically qualified to go to state (in April). You can ask any of the guys and they’ll say, ‘Yes, they are the best,’” he said. “Alana’s one of those naturals. This is her first year and she’s already outdoing some of the sophomores and juniors.”
Emery, 17, said she joined air rifle like many of her teammates because she thought it looked like an interesting sport.
“I really didn’t know what to expect because I had never shot any guns before,” said the team captain. “It’s pretty much all mental though. You have to be patient and it’s not that much physical.”
Her only familiarity with guns before joining the team was her father serving in the military.
Emery’s hope is that she can some day shoot in college and she is currently eyeing the University of Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas Christian University and the University of Memphis.
Clay, who also qualified for the Junior Olympics last year but couldn’t attend because it was during the state competition, said her interest in the rifle team began during freshman orientation.
“My friend begged me to go to the informational meeting with her … I said yes. We thought the teammates were nice people and I thought I’d go on to tryouts to make my mom happy and I ended up making the team,” she said.
The 16-year-old had never shot a gun before but is familiar with them since her dad is a collector.
“I thought ‘Oh geez, what did I do?’ I didn’t mean to for this to happen,” she said. “I joined the team and gosh, I love the team so much that I’ve stuck with it until now and can’t imagine not being on it.”
Clay said the mix of talents has come natural to her.
“You’ll find that with almost anything, there are things that carry over … concentration, focus, dedication to whatever you’re doing,” she said.
Kelly is the newest member of the team and the 14-year-old said she chose air rifle because she knew sports like volleyball and softball weren’t her “thing.”
“I thought air rifle was pretty cool,” she said. “I went to the summer camp before school and I really liked it!”
Learning the sport hasn’t been easy for her though.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks like it does because when you watch others, it seems so easy but when you pick it up you’re like, never mind,” she said.
Her favorite part about the sport is traveling to Anniston, Ala., on weekends and competing on an electronic shooting range.
“You get to see your score come up automatically and that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said.
Otherwise, the scores are tabulated by hand and shooters in high school are aiming to earn as many as 300 points each match, 100 per position — standing, kneeling and prone.
The team competes in about 20 matches per year between August and May and Allatoona is one of nine air rifle teams in Cobb but the only one not affiliated with an ROTC program.
“It takes a lot of practice … some people have the right demeanor,” Ware said. “There’s nothing natural about this but we do have kids that just walk in and start shooting really, really well.”
For Ware, this is a sport he’s been heavily involved with for the last 35 years.
He began shooting in high school and went to Murray State University on a shooting scholarship and that’s something he’d like his students to go on and earn.
“That’s one of the goals in going to these matches,” he said. “We went to two college matches already this year and we have another one in January. They are open to juniors up through college students.”