Despite the close competition, precision champion Rachel Martin from Peralta, N.M., and sporter champion Alan Rodriguez from Phoenix held onto their No. 1 spots throughout the 23rd annual American Legion Junior 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship finals on Aug. 10.
American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz watched the tightly contested tournament and thought "it was outstanding, and I hope to come back again," he said. "The competition was great."
The match began with the top eight sporter category competitors standing side-by-side, firing 10 shots. In the past, there's been about a 15- to 20-point lead between the top two competitors, but only a four-point lead separated Rodriguez from second-place Jeffrey Garcia. And Garcia took the lead after the third competition shot, but Rodriguez didn't let him keep it.
"It was intense in the finals, especially when Jeffrey took the lead, but then I put it out of my mind and focused on every single shot," said 18-year-old Rodriguez. "And it feels good to win."
Immediately following the sporter match, the top eight precision competitors stood side-by-side on the firing line for 10 shots. The highest possible score per shot is 10.9, and Martin held the top spot by scoring at or above a 10 for all but three shots.
"I knew I was going to have to work hard for the win," Martin said. "I was nervous at the beginning so I had to calm down and think about what I was doing, not take any shortcuts and focus more, and I was able to pull through.
"This is my last match for high school so to being able to win is exciting. This win is a great start as I head to college (at the University of Nebraska)."
As national champions, both Martin and Rodriguez received a $2,500 scholarship donated by the Sons of The American Legion. And SAL National Commander Chris Huntzinger was on site to present the award.
"I spoke to a few families here at the tournament, and they said that the competition was very friendly and that The American Legion volunteers treated them like family," Huntzinger said. "That's because we are The American Legion Family."
Final scores for the eight competitors in each category can be found here .
The finishing order for each category were: