ROGERS, Ark. Hard work and perseverance pays off. That's was Nancy Johson told the 43 shooting teams at the opening ceremonies of the Daisy National BB Gun Championship match at Rogers High School.
She should know. She was an Olympic gold medal in 2000 in air rifle.
"The best advice I can give these kids this weekend would probably be to give their best and let the rest take care of itself, because they've put in the hard work and they are going to do well," she said.
As a youth, Johnson had wanted to get into archery, but there was not a class to be found around her Downers Grove, Ill., home. She recalled her father Ben Napolski's encouragement that inspired her to become an air gun shooter.
"After about a month of him telling me about it, I called and he was there from my first practice until I won my medal," Johnson said. "He kept encouraging me and he never missed a practice, made most of my matches and the big competitions. Really, he was that dad who pushed from afar."
When she started taking classes, Johnson quickly learned she had an eye for hitting the bulls eye.
"My coach told my dad that I had what it took," Johnson said. "I don't think I had any natural ability, but I had determination and the drive to make up for it. For me, the big thing was that I loved it and loved the challenge of it."
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Johnson shot well enough to make it through the preliminary and qualifying rounds to tie for second with a South Korean competitor heading into her last match.
"I knew I was probably going to get a medal, because I was shooting well and confident," she said. "It wasn't until the last shot that was determined by two-tenths of an inch did I know I won a medal.
"I didn't know it was the gold until I looked at my husband Ken, who was waving his hands. Man what a feeling. The blood, the sweat, the tears you always hear that athletes go through was exactly what it took to stand on that podium with a medal around my neck. I will carry that forever."
Daisy Hall of Fame's first inductee
It took Daisy Outdoor Products president and CEO Ray Hobbs nearly five minutes to list the many accomplishments of John H. Wright as the first inductee to the Daisy Hall of Fame.
"It's no surprise," Hobbs said. "He's been a longtime friend of Daisy."
Wright began his association with Daisy in 1970, started coaching in 1971 and attended his first national match in 1972 through the Jaycees program. Throughout his life, Wright had many honors from coaching young shooters to their potential.
"I'm totally honored beyond words," Wright said. "Many years ago I learned that the shooting sport was a success in developing youngsters. It was something they could get involved in and Daisy has really been the main teachers in how to shoot safely. Beyond that, it teaches them self-control and how to concentrate. It's a self-development act."
20 years and counting
All of the coaches at the Daisy National BB Gun Championship Match are volunteers, but Howard Baker of the Oregon Timber Beasts BB Gun shooting team from Forest Grove, Ore., is among the top at teaching the sport.
Baker has led his Oregonian teams to the national match 20 straight years.
"To take a team to the nationals that many times is amazing and something special," Daisy president and CEO Ray Hobbs said.
Baker, who has recently celebrated his "28th anniversary of his 39th birthday," learned how to shoot by starting with a Daisy Red Rider model 29 pump action BB gun.
"I used a Daisy when I was a kid, and back then there wasn't any formal shooting education or hunter's ed," he said. "Dad or grandpa gave you a gun and told you not to hurt yourself. Fortunately, I was smart enough to learn the proper way of handling it by using a Daisy BB gun. I learned to do it safely and as I grew older it came natural to me."
Traveling 2,500 miles across the country to Rogers, Baker thinks this year's team of Craig Down, Olivia Bateman, Luke Nosack, Courtney Scoles, Natalie Brandt, Tsacha Hyneman and Will Hartman has a chance to win.
"This group is going to shoot their best," he said. "I've been here 20 years consecutively to national matches and 29 years doing the program in Oregon, but it's the kids that keeps us coming back and that's what keeps me going."
Girls can shoot in style
The Coffee County Center Shots from Douglas, Ga., are one of the only all-girls team in this year's competition and won the best-dressed award for their antebellum-style clothing at the opening ceremonies.
"We work hard with them," said coach W.B. Merritt. "It takes a bunch of shooting, a bunch of training and a bunch of kids wanting to shoot. That matters a lot. We can do pretty good with that and we are proud of everyone of them."
Although they were first in one category, don't be fooled, Nellie Whitley, Hannah Leggett, Loryn Brown, Meagan Joiner, Danielle Leggett, Summer McKinnon and Phaedra Vickers are avid shooters.
"They have the ambition to want to shoot and we're here to help them along the way and improve their techniques," coach Darren Brown said. "They get involved in it through our 4-H program."
There are some special training techniques the two coaches use to aid their girls in getting the proper aim.
"Mainly we make them quit eating chocolate or anything with caffeine in it," Merrit said. "We train them to settle themselves and concentrate on one target at a time. They are shooting against the target, not anybody else."
The girls are taught how to take a deep calming breath and release it to settle their nerves and steady their aim. And more times than not, this bunch of Georgia girls can outshoot any boy competitor.
"These girls just shoot better," Brown said.
All 43 teams will get under way in the two of the four match competitions Saturday morning and continue in the afternoon with a written exam. The matches will conclude on Sunday morning and the winners of the event will be announced at the closing ceremonies later that evening.