Spring on hold for Lanesville air rifleman
George Browning, Sports Writer, [email protected]
What was supposed to be a spring filled with opportunity and promise has turned into a waiting game for Lanesville Junior-Senior High School senior John Hamilton.
Hamilton is a member of the Eagles’ baseball team, which many expected to make a run at a state championship this season. While school officials and the Indiana High School Athletic Association have left the door open for a possible shortened regular season and post-season tournament, that opening is small and one more delay will likely halt it all together.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced late last week that all public schools would remain closed, doing eLearning, until May 1. If schools are able to return to class May 1, a portion of the spring sports season could be salvaged.
Baseball, however, wasn’t the only thing Hamilton was looking forward to this spring. He is one of just 200 people nationwide younger than 20 who qualified to compete in precision shooting as part of the Junior Olympic trials in Colorado Springs, Colo. That trip was scheduled for April 4, and, like so many things, has been postponed as well.
All of the delays have been a little hard for Hamilton to handle.
“We have 11 seniors on the varsity roster in baseball and were going to be able to field an entire team of seniors, and we also have some really good underclassmen stepping up,” he said. “It’s been frustrating because we feel like we had been working toward a state championship and now thinking it might not happen and there is nothing we can do to stop it from being canceled.”
If missing the two big sporting events wasn’t bad enough, Hamilton said he and his senior classmates also stand a chance of missing prom and other things spring brings during a student’s senior year.
“Some of us have been talking and have decided if Lanesville doesn’t do the prom, we are just going to use a barn and have a ‘Footloose’-style prom,” he said in reference to a movie about a conservative town that wouldn’t allow students to have a public dance.
The spring hasn’t been a total loss. Hamilton, son of Paul and Paula Hamilton, did compete earlier this month at the Junior Olympics state competition. His mom said organizers took all the necessary precautions in dealing with COVID-19.
“They put a lane between each shooter, and they didn’t allow any spectators,” said Paula Hamilton. “Basically, I dropped him off at the range and picked him up. We are excited he got to do that because he has qualified for several events that have gotten canceled.”
John Hamilton picked up a gun for the first time around the age of 6. It was a BB gun and, in those days, he would use it to keep the pigeons out of the dairy barn because of the mess they would make.
Going from shooting at pigeons to shooting competitively happened, ironically, when the door to a baseball opportunity closed.
“There was a year, when at the end of our youth league baseball season, I didn’t make the all-star team,” he said. “One of the other parents told us about a shooting team that was starting up and asked me to join. I got started and really excelled faster than a lot of people do and progressed from there.”
That team was part of the Southern Indiana Rifle and Pistol Club. In high school, Hamilton took part in the ROTC program at Floyd Central High School, which also fielded a competitive shooting team.
Hamilton started in the sporter division, won a competition at that level and quickly advanced to the precision level.
The FC team qualified for Navy nationals Hamilton’s junior year and went to shoot in Phoenix, and qualified to compete at All-Services, which includes all branches of the military. That event was snowed out, and they didn’t get to compete. FC competed in Phoenix again this year but did not qualify for the All-Services event.
Hamilton competes in air rifle at a distance of 10 meters and smallbore with a .22 at a distance of 50 feet. In each event, Hamilton said, participants get 60 shots and then a cumulative score is tallied. Air rifle is only from the standing position, and smallbore is done from three positions: prone, kneeling and standing.
To get to Colorado Springs, Hamilton placed first in the state as an individual not on a team in the Civilian Marksmanship Program. He went on to shoot a postal qualifier with a 295 out of 300 score, which was good for 10th place in the United States out of 400-plus entries.
“I really didn’t know if I would make it, because these are the top shooters in the nation I was competing against,” he said.
Not only would the trip to Colorado Springs give Hamilton a chance to compete against the best of the best, he also will be housed at the Olympic Village and have access to use all the equipment the U.S. Olympic team uses for training. The trip also includes a couple of days to practice on the Olympic range before the competition.
Hamilton said there is a good chance the trials will be canceled, depending on what happens with the Olympics this year. (Yesterday, it was announced that the summer Olympic games have been postponed until 2021.)
After high school, Hamilton wants to pursue flying and be a professional pilot. He isn’t sure if that will be obtained through college or the military.
“Now, some of the larger colleges have an aviation major and that will allow me to get my licensing and stuff taken care of and I won’t need to go the military route,” he said. “But if that doesn’t work out, the military is definitely an option.”
For fun, Hamilton participates in other shooting sports, including rim fire, skeet and trap shooting.
“I do those for fun because smallbore and the air rifle are so competitive it can get stressful, because the difference between winning and losing comes down to millimeters in the others I participate in,” he said. “The less competitive events help me destress while at the same time helping me to maintain focus, because I am still shooting when I do them.”
In addition to practicing an hour a day, no matter the weather conditions, Hamilton also plays a major role in the running and operations of the family farm.
“He does a lot of work for us on the farm,” his mother said. “We run a small dairy operation, and it’s all hands on deck and John takes care of the calves for us. Last year, my husband had surgery and, while he was out, John basically took care of the whole farm. We rely a lot on him.”
The Hamilton family is thankful for the opportunities shooting sports have provided, and Paula said she and her husband couldn’t be more proud of John. She also wants people to know the benefits and opportunities the sport provides.
“We want people to know that this opportunity is out there,” Paula said. “We fell into this. If John would have made the all-star (baseball) team, we would have never known about this. It was a little quirk of fate that allowed us to fall into this. Since we started, there are some other kids coming up through the ranks who are really good prospects for the Southern Indiana Rifle and Pistol Club.”
For more information about the club, visit www.sirapc.com/youth-marksmanship-program/.