MIDDLETOWN – When school lets out for the summer, many high school students head for the beach, take on summer jobs or take a vacation. However, several young men from Xavier High School have spent their time at a local shooting range, traveling out of state to shooter clinics and then passing on what they’ve learned about marksmanship to their fellow teammates.
It’s this level of dedication and teamwork that enabled the Xavier Varsity Riflery Team to win the state championship last February.
The Falcons had a 5-1 record last season, beating traditional rival Suffield Academy for the first time in six years with a record-high score of 967 (out of 1,000) against Suffield’s score of 958.
“It was the motivation of several of our shooters. They put in a tremendous amount of extra effort and just decided to buckle down,” Aaron King, rifle coach, said of the Xavier Riflery Team. “They really changed the tenor of the whole team.”
Team member Con Marrinan, age 17 and a junior, last season, agreed that the leadership of co-captains Dylan Lorence and Kyle Gardiner was the key to the team’s success. “We got co-captains who enjoyed riflery outside of school, as well, and coached the team a lot to improve our scores.”
Xavier is the only Catholic school represented among 12 riflery teams that compete in the Connecticut high school league. It’s also one of the largest rifle teams in the state, Coach King said, with 40 members total, including varsity and junior varsity, when competing teams have fewer than 20 members.
According to Coach King, who has coached the team for nine years, the best shooting competitors have great concentration, a good mastery of their body and some amount of strength and stability to keep themselves still. They also must learn to shoot in four different positions: prone, sitting cross-legged with elbows on their knees, kneeling and standing.
“You’re never going to be able to get the barrel steady – it moves. You have to pull the trigger right when it’s aligned with the target,” he explained. “Some kids have a natural aptitude, but some can practice enough to get good.”
The team routinely practices twice a week through the winter season at Blue Trail Range in Wallingford.
“Some other schools have their own ranges and they practice five days a week, so that puts us at a disadvantage,” Coach King said. “We’ve invested in some technology recently: the Scatt System. It’s a German laser gun and is what the Olympic shooters use.” This allows the Xavier team members to get in some extra practice.
Many of the team members participate in other sports, too, but said they find rifle shooting to be a unique sport.
“I enjoy the challenge,” Mr. Marrinan said. “It’s a lot of fun because it’s not just a sport against another person. So even when there’s no competition, it’s still a mental game and you’re on the line with yourself, against the clock, and against your best scores.”
Mr. Marrinan also competes with pistols and qualified for the Junior Olympics in pistol shooting this year. He attended the pistol Nationals in April.
Mike Acampora, 16, a sophomore last season, said, “I like pushing myself to the limit and trying to get that perfect score.” He also qualified for the Junior Olympics in his freshman and sophomore years and hopes to compete in the adult Olympics someday.
Mr. Lorence, a recent graduate and former co-captain, said he spent a lot of hours practicing with his father at the ranges in Wallingford and in Newington.
“I enjoy what it’s been teaching me about self-discipline and making sure that I push myself to be the best that I can be. It helps you with everything, even school work,” the 17-year-old Lorence said, noting that target shooting is 90 percent mental concentration.
He said he was not surprised that Xavier won the state championship “but watching the scores come in, it was kind of nerve wracking. Their last shooter didn’t have it, but our last shooter [co-captain Kyle Gardiner] did.”
Mr. Lorence was recruited by the Coast Guard Academy in New London to attend college there and to shoot on its rifle team.
This past season, Jacob Lagace, 17 and a junior, tied for the highest individual score in team history with a score of 199 out of 200.
Mr. Lagace said he was drawn to the sport because “I liked the idea of the discipline and self-control of being a military marksman. I would like to attend West Point. That was my dream as a little kid and it’s still my dream today.”
Now that a new year is about to start, what does the coach think the team’s chances are for winning again? “We’re only losing one of our top shooters. The other four top shooters will be here next year,” he said, “and they’ll be better.”