Texas, South Carolina youth win Legion air rifle championship

Mikole Hogan and Samantha Zermeno held on to their first-place position in the precision and sporter class, respectively, to be named champions of the 2022 American Legion Junior 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship.

The top eight precision and sporter class competed in the championship round Saturday morning in the basement of the USA Shooting Range at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the firing line, each competitor fired 10 shots in standing position with 50 seconds for each one. The clapping and cheering from American Legion Family members, coaches, family and friends of the competitors didn’t distract Hogan from holding the lead, even with second-place competitor Camryn Camp close behind.

“I just take deep breaths, try to relax and not worry about anybody else behind me or any of the other competitors … it’s just me and that target down there. That’s honestly what helps me the most,” said Hogan of Montgomery, Texas, who shoots for the Houston Hotshots. Being in the right headspace is the most challenging part of the sport for Hogan, but she maintained it to become The American Legion’s precision champion.

“I just kept telling myself that I got this, there’s no reason to stress or worry about any of the other competitors on the line. It’s just me and that target,” she said. “I got it. I keep telling myself ‘you can do this, you’ve done it before’. I’m very proud of myself that I was able to pull through and do that.”

Maintaining the lead became a little more challenging mentally for Zermeno before the competition even began – her pellet box spilled, and her glasses and blinders were misplaced. “That did freak me out at first as I started my first shot,” which was a 7.4 out of a 10.9, a perfect center shot for air rifle. “What I managed to do to calm myself down was I had to definitely breathe, take more time because I felt due to the rush of adrenaline, the fear, the nervousness that caused me to rush my shots. I told myself, you have to stay calm and do what you’ve got left.”

Taylar Crane did catch up to Zermeno for a tie after the seventh shot, but Zermeno relied on the last few to maintain first place.

“My coach taught me that it’s not about winning,” said Zermeno, who shoots for Nation Ford Rifle Team JROTC in Fort Mill, S.C. “I can get eighth place as long as I know I did my best. I will be proud of myself. I did realize she was catching up to me, we were both hand in hand, and I just said ‘you know what, if I don’t make it to first place that’s fine’. I know I did the best that I can do. And for the last few shots I just calmed myself down and said, ‘It’s fine. I’ll just give it my all in these last two shots.’ I stopped caring about if I won first place or not and just focused on the target and myself.”

As for winning sporter class, “I’m overall just proud of myself,” Zermeno said. “Very happy.”

As precision and sporter champions, Hogan and Zermeno won a $5,000 college scholarship provided by The American Legion and the Sons of The American Legion. The scholarship will help Hogan with tuition as she will be an incoming freshman on the air rifle competitive team at Texas Christian University. A $1,000 scholarship, provided by the American Legion Auxiliary, was awarded to second-place finishers Camryn Camp and Taylar Crane.

What Hogan liked about The American Legion Junior 3-Position Air Rifle Championship compared to other three-position matches that she has competed in is the stamina this one takes. “You have to shoot four matches in two days,” she said, which isn’t typical for three-position air rifle. “So I like the challenging part of having to keep your stamina up and keep that mental headspace throughout the whole entire day so you can do good for the whole thing.”

It's the stamina of the sport takes that had American Legion National Commander Paul E. Dillard and Auxiliary President Kathy Daudistel impressed watching their first American Legion air rifle competition.  

“All of our youth programs … when you see these youth and how it changes them, it molds their life in a different manner,” Dillard said. “It makes your heart thump in a little bit harder because you feel like there’s hope for our nation with these youth.”

“These kids are definitely athletes,” Daudistel added. “It’s amazing what they can do and the stamina, the patience with all the pressure. It’s an incredible sport. It renews your hope for the future.”

Hogan and Zermeno will be invited to attend the 103rd American Legion National Convention in Milwaukee in August to be honored alongside other American Legion youth program champions.

“Thank you, American Legion, for giving me and every shooter a chance to compete,” Zermeno said. “It’s a really big deal because we come together as a team and sort of a family. Just a chance to be a community together is what I really appreciate about this. Thank you for giving us a chance to better ourselves.”

Precision results

1.     2,486.8 – Mikole Hogan of Texas Houston Hotshots

2.     2,484.4 – Camryn Camp of Texas Hill Country Shooting Team

3.     2,484.1 – Elizabeth Probst of Texas Hill Country Shooting Team

4.     2,482.6 – Emme Walrath of Grand Rapids (Michigan) Rifle and Pistol Club

5.     2,475.5 – Braden Peiser of Texas Hill Country Shooting Team

6.     2,475.2 – Brandon Evans of Lafayette (Virginia) Gun Club

7.     2,467.6 – Dylan Gregory of Central Illinois Precision Shooting

8.     2,460.3 – Vittoria Watts of Lincoln Rifle Club-Lead Heads in California

 Sporter results

1.     2,293.3 – Samantha Zermeno of South Carolina Nation Ford Rifle Team JROTC

2.     2,292.2 – Taylar Crane of Minnesota

3.     2,283.7 – Austin Rahmig of Western Nebraska Shooting Sports

4.     2,254.9 – Elaine Saint of South Carolina Walhalla High School JROTC

5.     2,253.1 – Gavin Carrizales of Western Nebraska Shooting Sports

6.     2,238.9 – Julia Winstrom of Nebraska Dead Eye Shooters

7.     2,233.7 – Seth Carver of Virginia Warrenton Rifles

8.     2,228.1 – Nikolas Jackson of Illinois Zion Benton High School