Lanesville grad continues on journey to elite marksmanship
Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]
Through the years, a mindset known as “Mamba Mentality” has come about. It’s a mantra crafted by late NBA great Kobe Bryant for the intensity and dedication he displayed during the latter half of his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. According to Bryant in a 2018 interview with Amazon Book Review, he described Mamby Mentality as “the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit.” The term has since come to be embraced by athletes and non-athletes alike.
For Lanesville Junior-Senior High School graduate John Hamilton, Mamba Mentality didn’t come from his three seasons on the baseball field. It didn’t come from doing shot put during track and field season. It came from a competitive sport that doesn’t receive nearly as much attention of any variety in comparison to sports such as baseball, basketball or football.
It came from shooting a gun.
To be more precise, a Smallbore, a .22-caliber rifle used in precision shooting.
Hamilton made his name with this weapon more than a year ago when he qualified for the Junior Olympic trials in Colorado Springs, Colo. COVID-19 put those plans on ice, yet the opportunity itself was the culmination of the series of challenges that come with being a precision shooter in Southern Indiana.
“This area isn’t known as a big competitive shooting area, and there are no supporters for college-level shooting until you get to Fort Wayne,” Hamilton said. “Another issue was just finding matches. Many times I would have to make six-, eight-, even 12-hour car rides just to find matches for me to compete in.”
Long car rides and a lack of nearby competition were just a small roadblock in comparison to the challenges one had to face to become a competitive marksman. For Hamilton, being born left-handed meant that the clubs he joined often lacked proper equipment. His humble beginnings on a small dairy farm just outside Lanesville meant the efforts of the local community were needed to properly accommodate him.
“Initially, it was difficult because being left handed they didn’t have equipment for him,” Paula Hamilton, John’s mother, said. “Luckily, we have good family, friends and neighbors who helped pitch in to buy him the suit and gear he needed. I don’t know what we would have done without all the community support he received.”
Once equipment was no longer an issue, Hamilton began firing on all cylinders when it came to introductory sporter air shooting, competing for both the Southern Indiana Rifle and Pistol Club and Floyd Central’s Navy JROTC rifle team. During his two years with the Highlanders’ NJROTC, Hamilton qualified for Navy Nationals as well as competing in All-Services, which includes JROTC units representing all military branches. It was during his time with the Highlanders that he was first introduced to the world of precision shooting.
One of many student-athletes to have their athletic careers cut short due to COVID-19, Hamilton decided to take a gap year after graduating from Lanesville in 2020. While his chance to compete in the Junior Olympic trials were dashed due to the pandemic, it didn’t stop him from honing his shot. This past summer, Hamilton continued to hone his skills as he competed in the National Rifle Association’s annual Smallbore Championship at Camp Atterbury, a military base just west of Edinburgh.
Hamilton did not have it easy in the tournament, competing in the grueling 12-day event, collectively known as the Iron Man due to its slow but steady taxation both physically and mentally. Despite the 12-day gauntlet, Hamilton pulled through to win the Lones Wigger Trophy, awarded to the shooter who posts the highest combined scores from the four competitions: metric and conventional prone along with metric and conventional three-position shooting.
Much of his success in the Iron Man came from competing in the prone position, where he finished atop the sharpshooter division in five events along with three three-position events. He also topped the junior division.
The NRA National Championships also included two “off-days” which involve competitions where shooters utilize mentors and coaches to help them succeed. The Drew Cup, an international postal match for juniors sponsored by the United Kingdom’s National Smallbore Rifle Association, also took place during these intermissionary periods. While the workload of the Iron Man was already taking a toll, Hamilton took part in both competitions as well, resulting in him shooting in competitions for 14 consecutive days.
“Normally, it takes an accomplished marksman to win the Iron Man with a lot of support from clubs, teams, etc.,” Paula Hamilton said. “Not a ton of people shoot the entire event because it’s hard to shoot that much. Even John was having some physical problems like a sore wrist where the sling is held. The last couple days were tough. He had a couple of rough days, which as a mom watching him was gut-wrenching, but he finished strong.”
Shooting competitively each day for exactly two weeks is a testament to the fortitude that Hamilton has developed from practicing daily. His dedication to his craft wasn’t without its share of risks, such as when he spent the past winter preparing for the Winter Air Gun competition at Camp Perry in Ohio. Several nights following hours of practice, his exposed hands were assaulted by superficial frostbite.
While wishing to support his quest to become a top marksman, Hamilton’s mother couldn’t allow this near self-torture to continue, resulting in her reducing his practice schedule.
“The risk of injury was too great,” she said. “I felt bad having to decrease his practices so close to a big match, but it wasn’t worth the risk. It goes to show you how much he is willing to endure to become an elite marksman.”
“With this sport, you have to always be practicing. If you’re not practicing, you’re falling behind. In preparation for winter air gun, I was practicing two to three hours a day and at that time I had a job so that meant that practice had to come later in the day,” John Hamilton said. “I wouldn’t say I was disappointed when my mom asked me to take a break. Actually, I was really surprised because she’s the one who usually motivates me to keep practicing.”
Family support has been the driving force behind Hamilton’s precision ascension, notably from his mother. While never hesitant to support her son, she also does all she can to avoid falling into the trap of sports parents continually overly pushing their children toward greater heights.
“It’s a fine line to cross,” Paula Hamilton said. “I think I knew he had a gift early on and wanted to support him, but not push him like you see a lot of parents doing,” Paula Hamilton said. “I don’t think he really understood he had something even close to a gift until the NRA event. I’ve seen such a change in him these last few months; he has more confidence and understands that putting in the work will take him to the next level.”
That confidence has carried over as Hamilton begins courses at the University of Akron, where he is currently competing in club shooting while pursuing a degree in aviation. His goal is to eventually become a shooter with the No. 11 Zips, one of the elite Division I shooting programs in the country.
Despite all that he has achieved so far and what could be in his future, his humble roots have honed him into a minimalist lifestyle and personality.
“He thinks talking about himself is bragging, and he doesn’t want to be looked at like that, even when he should be proud of his achievements,” Paula Hamilton said. “I’m very proud of him, especially coming from Lanesville, small-town USA, because there isn’t a lot of support set up for this kind of shooting. If he makes it, somehow I’ll make that drive up to Akron to see him compete as a college athlete.”