Winning the 2017 JROTC National Air Rifle Championship in March was reward enough for the Turlock High School air rifle team, who went into the competition as underdogs, but Wednesday morning they received another wave of congratulations and recognition from Congressman Jeff Denham.
Senior Adriana Valencia, senior Nicolas McKeon, senior Dorian Macintosh and sophomore Ramandeep Singh made up the Turlock team. They were named the best overall in the nation, becoming the first air rifle team from California to accomplish such a feat, and besting the other top seven teams from each JROTC, or Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps, branch of service.
Their journey to victory began in October at the JROTC Postal Competition, and the team then moved on to the JROTC Regional Service Championships in February where 7,800 shooters from 1,800 teams competed to earn a spot at the national competition.
After a rough first day of shooting at the championship, the team came back on day two to overcome a 25-point deficit and take first place.
“It was just incredible to watch them perform the way that they can perform and to see them shoot the way that I knew they could shoot,” said Coach Major Kelly Cross.
For Denham, taking time away from the current tense political climate in the Central Valley to focus on such a successful program was exciting, he said.
“The JROTC program not only is a big thing nationally, but we’ve got one of the best programs here in the entire country,” said Denham. “It’s amazing to see the shooting awards, the orientation awards and, most importantly, these students are now going on to enlist in the military to serve our country, or are going on to college using JROTC scholarships.”
Denham presented each student on the air rifle team with a congressional certificate of recognition, and the congressman was also able to meet Cody Jacobson, a member of the THS JROTC program who was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy by Denham, but was not selected to attend. Instead, he will be attending Marquette University on a four-year Navy ROTC Scholarship — the fourth THS student in four years to be awarded such a scholarship.
Denham is a veteran, having spent 16 years in the Air Force and serving in Operations Desert Storm and Restore Hope. Because of this, the importance of recognizing such an esteemed program within his district was “personal.”
“These students are learning and becoming more patriotic, (learning) respect for our flag and for our country, and they’re all willing to wear the cloth of this great nation,” said Denham. “It’s important to make sure the youth…not only respect the colors, but also respect the veterans — we’ve got a large veteran population right here. Some are homeless, some don’t talk about what they’ve seen in the battlefield and this promotes respect and patriotism at the same time.”
After the air rifle team received their certificates, they took Denham to the newly-remodeled Louise Marchant Gymnasium to test out an air rifle for himself in the shooting range. Denham, a recipient of the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon while in the Air Force, found that shooting an air rifle was a bit harder than he anticipated. McKeon taught him the ropes as he attempted to hit the tiny targets across the room.
“It was a bit slow, but it was definitely an honor,” said McKeon, who was not only in awe of teaching Denham how to shoot, but his certificate of recognition as well. “I thought this was an amazing experience, to get a little congressional award. This is going to be something that’s hung up on my wall for the rest of my life.”