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Lebanon teen captures first air rifle championship title for Oregon

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Lebanon High School senior Kyler Boyce topped all military branch shooters and became the first Oregonian to achieve the title in the sporter individual class at the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps National Air Rifle Championship, held March 17-19 at the Gary Anderson CMP Competition Center in Camp Perry, Ohio.

The 17-year-old ended with a score of 440.7 out of a possible 490.5.

“This is a major success, not only for Kyler, but for the school,” Nadine Heathman, Boyce’s mother, said.

Col. Mark Smith, left, with Kyler Boyce in the LHS classroom. Photo by Sarah Brown

Col. Mark Smith, senior Army instructor for the high school’s JROTC course, explained that eight competitors from Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy branches accumulated scores in three positions during the final shoot-out: three five-shot series at kneeling and prone, and two five-shot series in standing. Two competitors were then eliminated, and remaining athletes were eliminated during single-shot trials.

“Kyler took a commanding lead after the first kneeling series and maintained that lead throughout the final,” he said.

Boyce beat his last remaining competitor, Ozark High School’s (Ozark, Missouri) Sydney Broussard, by two points.

Smith started Lebanon’s JROTC program in 2008. He said many people perceived Lebanon as a “small, podunk town,” so when the team wore blue sweatshirts to the championships in the beginning, other teams lightheartedly called its shooters “blueberries.”

“As soon as we started kicking their butt,” he said, “well, all that talk went out the window.”

Boyce is presented with a $500 check for winning the Air Rifle Championship, sporter class. Photo courtesy of Mark Smith

Some teams practice only when school is in session, but Smith’s team practices year-round to maintain a competitive edge. He believes his team’s win, and Boyce’s win, are important because it teaches kids they can amount to something and excel at something.

“Kids need to know if you’re willing to work hard, get focused and dedicated, you can do well at whatever you set your mind to,” he said.

More than 6,000 high school students across the nation began competition in November 2021 with the JROTC Postal Match, firing at targets on their home ranges. The top 110 teams from Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy branches were then invited to the JROTC Service Championship in February, where teams competed for their branch title.

This year, Boyce, Zoe Geoghegan, Alivia Griffiths and Carmella Martinez represented Lebanon in that two-day competition, each firing 20 shots per position: kneeling, prone and standing. Shooters earn up to 600 points per day, and team scores are determined by combining the four teammates’ scores for a potential of 2,400 points, or 4,800 points between the two days.

The team is treated to a formal meal during the awards ceremony. Photo courtesy of Mark Smith

The LHS team scored 4,264 and won the Army JROTC National Championship in Arizona, adding to its 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020 titles. Martinez took third place, leading Boyce by only two-tenths of a point.

After the service match, the top seven teams and individual shooters from each branch were invited to the JROTC National Championships in March, where the LHS team scored 4,286 out of 4,800 and placed seventh out of 28.

Martinez put in an outstanding performance, taking ninth place, Smith said. Boyce scored 1,105 out of 1,200 and finished sixth, qualifying him for the finals where the top eight athletes competed in an elimination shoot-off.

In the past, the final consisted of only 10 shots from a standing position, and those scores were added to the shooter’s qualifying score to determine a winner. This year, competitors began with a zero-score and competed with the 45-shot, three-position match.

Boyce stops for a photo opp in front of the targets. Photo courtesy of Mark Smith

“I like the new format,” Smith said. “Anything can happen, everyone has an equal chance of winning. I think the new format is a better indicator of an athlete’s overall skill since you shoot in all three positions. Kyler is a good shooter in all three positions, so I think this format helped him to shine.”

Boyce wasn’t sure about the new format at first, but now he thinks it’s a good way to evenly pit shooters against one another.

“I was in this new final (format) thinking I wasn’t really going to do that great because I was already pretty exhausted from shooting,” he said.

But he started out strong and just kept going.

“It was kind of a breeze for me,” he said.

This year, Martinez earned the Junior Distinguished Badge for her high ranks in major matches. Boyce earned his badge last year. Since 2010, 19 LHS students have earned it.

Boyce and Ozark High School’s Sydney Broussard take shots in standing pose. Photo courtesy of Mark Smith

The Civilian Marksmanship Program has sponsored and conducted the JROTC National Air Rifle Championship since 2003, in cooperation with the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy JROTC Commands.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s the toughest competition,” Smith said. “The best shooters are there.”

The JROTC championship includes a precision shooter class, as well. Taylor Gibson, from Salem, was the first Oregonian to win that title in both 2017 and 2018. LHS doesn’t have a precision-shooter class.

Boyce, who will graduate with a 4.0 GPA this year, first learned about the school’s JROTC program during his freshman orientation. He liked the idea of being part of a team, traveling to different schools and testing his skills against others.

Plus, “it’s nice knowing we’re the best Army team that’s around,” he said.

Boyce said that Smith not only helped him with the practical and mental skills of shooting, but has also served as a mentor.

The team takes shots in kneeling pose. Photo courtesy of Mark Smith

Much of the program teaches students the mental aspects of shooting – focusing, thinking positively, not downplaying one’s self – and probably one of the most memorable lessons Boyce is taking away from the class, he said, is mindfulness.

According to Boyce, focusing on the moment applies not only to shooting, but also to real-world life.

“It’s good to have mindfulness in general, and always having a growth mindset,” he said. “You just think about improving and growing and stuff.”

Smith said he teaches his students how to win – and lose – gracefully.

“Failure is an option, and it’s a good option; quitting is not an option,” he said. “These kinds of life lessons that the kids learn, I think, is critical.”

So what does a 17-year-old with the capability to train as a sniper plan to do with his skills? Boyce is thinking about becoming an electrician.