When the North Forsyth High School rifle program began in 1997, there was plenty of room for improvement, its instructor recalled.
“We were horrible,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jack “Gunny” Snook. “In the last five or six years, we started to get competitive and people started to believe.”
The five-member team is currently ranked tops in the state and recently placed second to a squad from Shelby, County, Ky., at the national Marine Corps JROTC Service Championship.
“This is the strongest team I’ve ever had,” Snook said. “And with only one senior and the rest sophomores, it’s a good future.”
That one senior is Rebecca Godwin, the state’s top shooter. Godwin has a state score of 294.14 out of a possible 300, with the next closest shooter at a 291.57.
Godwin followed her brother Brandon, who’s now in the U.S. Air Force, into the family tradition of shooting.
“I outshot him my freshman year,” said Godwin, who also plans to enter the Air Force.
She added that she’s continued to improve every year by “trying new things that I’ve learned.”
“I went to a camp over the summer two years ago and Olympic and collegiate shooters taught us,” she said. “I just keep implementing those in practice and I show those techniques to the others on the team.”
During the recent service championship, Godwin was honored with the Distinguished Shooting award, a rare accomplishment for a student, Snook said.
The Godwin legacy will continue with sister Alyson, a sophomore currently ranked seventh in the state.
In addition to the Godwin sisters, the school’s rifle team — the only one in the county — includes Oscar Zavala and Cameron Houston, with Avery Babykin serving as an alternate.
“I’ve got three 290 shooters … we have a 288 average,” Snook said. “You win a lot of matches with that.”
Placing second at the recent championship was a pleasant surprise for Snook, who said he anticipated finishing fourth or fifth.
But practice continues as the students prepare for the JROTC Air Rifle National Championship in Alabama. Last year, the team placed eighth in the nation.
“If we do better than eighth at nationals, I’m a happy camper,” Snook said. “And if we do better than that, it’s icing on the cake.”
The sport requires a lot of repetition, Snook said. The team’s shooters each start in the prone position, lying down and shooting 20 rounds. Then it’s 20 rounds in a standing position followed by 20 kneeling.
There’s no scope on the rifle and the students are shooting toward a bulls-eye the size of a No. 2 pencil point. Every one of those 60 shots counts toward their final score, Snook said.
Which is why during practice, they keep shooting until they work closer toward a perfect 100 score. During Monday’s practice, Alyson Godwin was disappointed when she shot a 98.
Her sister joked she was hurting the family name. With the monotony of shooting, the students often joke between rounds, even having to buy pizza for the group if they make a rookie mistake.
Following the ROTC competition, Snook is looking toward the Georgia High School Association Riflery State Championship. Already three team members have qualified for individual events, but Snook expects his students to also qualify as a team.
“If they know they shot the best they can do, that’s all I can ask,” he said.