CAMP PERRY, Ohio – The 2024 Junior Air Nationals, sponsored by Pardini USA, was held Jan. 25-27, at the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s (CMP) Gary Anderson Competition Center at Camp Perry in Ohio. A group of 160 athletes participated in the event, marking the beginning of a new tradition for the annual high school match.
“The goal of the event is community,” said Diane Rice, CMP Indiana State Director and match director of the event. Rice is also a co-founder of The X Count shooting team, which instructs several young athletes in the Indiana area and stands as a prominent champion of marksmanship sports.
“Because of the team atmosphere, more athletes get to participate and more have a chance to be on the podium. It increases excitement in the sport,” she added about the Junior Air Nationals.
The match included a three-position sporter competition along with 60-shot standing precision air rifle and air pistol events. Awards were presented to individuals and teams, first through third place.
Leading the 3×20 event after reaching the overall top score in a qualifying round and an elimination final was Nathan Krokstrom, 18, of Cape Coral, Fla. Krokstrom went on to help his Mariner Army JROTC reach the win in the 3×20 team event.
Finding first place in the 60 Shot Rifle Aggregate was Emme Walrath, 17, of Kenosha, Wis., as Blaine Simpson, 18, of Sidney, Ohio, claimed the overall spot in the 60 Shot Pistol Aggregate.
Team competitions were also recorded during the 60 Shot matches, with the NoVa Sharpshooters overtaking the pistol portion. Firing members were Nathan Carbaugh, Elie Arkin, Caroline Tso and Nina Wang.
In rifle, AJ Hotshots (Lily Wytko, Natasha Thamungruxsat, Shannon Moriarty and Andrew Zhao) led the Local Team category, while Lukie Pokie Bears (Emme Walrath, Mackenzie Kring, Gracie Dinh and Tyler Wee) led the Open Team event.
A banquet and awards ceremony for the match was held within the Clubhouse on the grounds of Camp Perry at the completion of the grueling competition, with over 300 individuals in attendance. Following the banquet was a prom for all the junior participants within the CMP’s Armory – complete with a red-carpet entrance and festive winter décor. It was a fitting end to the intense dedication the young athletes put into their training and competitive schedule throughout the year to reach the national stage.
“The other important message we want to send is that the athletes are still young people and that we want the young people to work hard but still have fun,” Rice said.
“The CMP was such a perfect place to have this event, as many of the coaches and parents of these athletes who used to shoot and have memories that shaped their lives from the national matches can again be a part of the Camp Perry story,” she went on. “These young people will take home memories that they will share with their children and grandchildren.”
The roots of the Junior Air Nationals are derived from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU), which held the match for years.
“The (US)AMU did such an excellent job running the match that, over the years, it has become the most prestigious high school team match. It’s like the Junior Olympics for high school teams,” Rice explained.
During COVID, Rice and The X Count kept the match running by conducting it twice, with great success. It returned to the hands of the USAMU in 2023, with a sectional in the fall of 2022 and a championship in January of 2023, but it, unfortunately, didn’t last.
Due to many factors, the USAMU did not host the match in the 2023-2024 year and gave The X Count permission to host a match in its place. The group stayed true to the original event by following many of the same procedures and processes as the USAMU, though they added air pistol and adaptive athletes to the competition agenda.
Coinciding with this year’s Junior Nationals was a “Gname the Gnat” contest – a fun challenge, open to anyone, to give a permanent name to the match’s new mascot.
“As the match has now officially been named the Rifle & Pistol Junior Air Nationals, or AirNats, for short, we felt the Gnat was an appropriate mascot for the Nationals,” Rice said.
Out of hundreds of entries, Rice and her colleagues shortened the list to five. They then left the voting up to the public by allowing individuals to vote online from December through the prom at Nationals. The winning name? Splat.
For the future, Rice is excited for even more growth in the event through the continued support of the marksmanship community and the many encouraging entities within it.
“The partnership with CMP is incredibly meaningful,” Rice said. “The X Count and the CMP, along with all of our sponsors, see the benefit of young people participating in shooting sports. Many important organizations come together to make this event a success.”
She continued, “In addition, the CMP Staff and the staff and volunteers of The X Count have put in countless hours of work to make the match the success. We want to thank our sponsors: CMP, The X Count, Peak Performance Shooting, MidwayUSA Foundation, Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, Team Winning Solutions, NTCSC, Druley Dental, Umarex USA, Paul Borthwick and Jay and Nitsa McClatchey.”
– – Ashley Dugan, CMP Staff Writer
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.
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