ROGERS, Ark. Abby Keeven surely made her grandfather proud.
Keeven hit all 10 targets in the 5-meter prone position to lead her Washington, Mo., Shooting Team to the lead after two events in the Daisy National BB Gun Match in Rogers. Keeven's perfect score set the tone for a score of 954.
"I just shot my best today," Keeven said. "Staying focused and not staying up too late helps. In the preparation period, I closed my eyes and turned around to see how far I was from the target."
Keeven's strategy paid off, but she first found she had an eye for shooting by practicing in her grandfather's shed, hitting tin cans.
"It's not hard at all," she said. "We read in the paper that the BB gun team was having tryouts, but a couple of years before that, my grandpa bought each of us grand kids a BB gun for Christmas. He made a trailer for us to shoot cans in and I got pretty good at knocking them down."
Her coach, Ken Pinnell, who has been involved with the Washington Jaycees since 1992, said that consistent practicing has made the difference for all the team members.
"It's a matter of getting in their practice a couple of times a week and working with them," Pinnell said. "The hardest thing is teaching them breath control and getting them to relax so they can have a good time with it."
Washington placed third in the last year's national Daisy shoot in Bowling Green, Ky., but that team is mostly gone. Competition rules state that shooters in the national event must sit out the next year, thereby giving others a chance.
"Most of those who competed last year had to sit out, but so far this team is real good and we're keeping our fingers crossed hoping everything comes out okay," Pinnell said.
Nearly 80 shooters try out for the team in December, and Keeven is one of the only returners for Washington this year.
"This is my second time at the nationals," she said. "I came last year as an alternate and it helped me to get back here. I just try to stay focused and make sure I do my best.
"The hardest for me is the kneeling position. You have to stay balanced and not lean either way, but we have a good kneeling rule that gets our foot out just right so we can stay steady."
Standing on 100
Coach Cameron Archer of the Norton Rotary BB Gun Club from Norton, Kan., had a wide smile on his face after he watched his son Lane score a perfect 100 in the standing position competition Saturday.
"We started in October and went to two state competitions and Lane had been shooting pretty good, in the 380s most of the time," Coach Archer said. "In standing, his best ever was a 97 and today must have been a special day."
Lane had his first perfect score in the standing event, and the only one on the day.
"I sat in the chair before hoping to at least get a 97," Lane said. "I wanted to do good, so I listened to some music, stayed relaxed and got focused. I had a good day. I was really excited and proud of myself. I'd never done that before in standing."
Lane had accomplished a perfect score in sitting and prone positions in other competitions.
"It's given me confidence for the other two events and the written test," he said. "The test is the hardest, but we've been studying for it and practicing just about every day on shooting."
The younger Archer is following in the footsteps of his father, who attended the Daisy Nationals in 1980. Norton is tied for fourth place after two events with Kirley Junior Shooters from Hayes, S.D., at 926.
"I expected us to be pretty close, but shooting-wise I imagine a 1,880 or better to win it," Coach Archer said. "The way I got it figured, we are shooting probably around an 1,876, so our sitting and keeling events are going to have to be really good."
Although the Marshall County 4-H Sharpshooters are an entirely different team this year, they are in second place after two competitions with a score of 943, only 11 points out of first place. Veteran coach Harlan Hilleson hopes that all the practice his team has put in will pay off.
"We actually started shooting in January and because we did win the nationals, we lost a year of eligibility so we have an entirely new team," he said. "We went through state matches and put in six months of practicing.
"We go through a selection process on how they compete at invitational matches and those shooters go on to state. It so happens that we have a team of seven girls as our top shooters."
Shayla Olson, Jessie Allcock, Jena Lunzman, Natasha Albro, Aimee Allcock, Abby Flanery and Lyndsey Effling make up this year's Marshall County team.
"We work with around 25 shooters in our local club," said Hilleson, who has been coaching for 28 years. "Last year the community was tickled, because the kids went and won a national level sporting event.
"I haven't been here every year, but just about every other one and the lowest we've finished is eighth place. We've had some good teams and this group has always done well. They understand the mental part of it, but what it really boils down to is training themselves for what they are going to do in their lives."
Jessie and Aimee Allcock are twins who believe in themselves and their own shooting abilities.
"It's actually possible to get ribbons and trophies, but we have to believe," Jessie said.
"Getting a 100 is the hardest thing," Aimee added. "I don't think I've ever gotten 100 yet, but I'm working towards it. You have to be in the right mood for this and you have to believe."
Albro was an alternate on last year's team and recalls seeing her coach cry with joy after the team won the title.
"It was epic," Albro said. "Last year was amazing. To see my coaches cry when we placed in the top three for the first time was just great. We have an idea of what to expect this year, but it's stressful. The key is don't freak out and stay focused."
This is Lunzman's first year and staying loose is the toughest part for her.
"The hardest part is keeping yourself calmed down and not obsession over scores," she said. "This is one sport I'm actually good at, but you have to believe in yourself and listen to the coaches."
Olson takes that advice seriously, too.
"The hardest part is making a perfect 500 and that's not happened," she said. "What I like about it is we get to meet new people from other states."
Flanery, the youngest member of the team at age 12, has a unique way of staying focused when she's about to shoot at a target.
"This is my first competition and it's pretty nerve-racking," she said. "Focusing is the hardest thing, but before I go up there, I think of something that makes me happy, like my cats."
Flanery owns a short-haired tabby and a Siamese mix feline named Bill and Peanut.
"I just think of snuggling and petting them," she said. "This is exciting, but you have to come and shoot the best you can and we're doing good. I think we're going to be amazing."
Family ties Penns Valley
Reba Smith wouldn't be shooting if it wasn't for her father Jim's encouragement.
Four years ago, Reba decided to try the sport of shooting after Jim had heard about the youth program from the Boy Scouts in Spring Mills, Penn.
"I signed up my kids, because I believe it offers a lot of values they can use in life," Jim Smith said. "They can win as a team or they can win as an individual and it's great to see your kid compete."
Most of all for Jim, it's time he can spend with his daughter.
"It's a great father-daughter time," he said. "We practice two or three times a week and spend an hour together just shooting. You get a great bond with your daughter doing that instead of watching television or something like that."
Reba said learning from her mistakes has made her a better shooter.
"Once you've made a mistake you have to let it go and keep it all in the black," she said. "My dad has always said that and I like doing this. You still try to get the awards, but I'm here too, because I like being around my friends and having fun most of all."
New York back in mix
Thanks to the coaching efforts of Robert Jensen and Dave Mercincavage, Broome County 4-H Shooting Sports of Binghamton, N.Y., is back at the Daisy Nationals for the first time in 36 years.
"When the kids decided they wanted to compete in this we drove 1,300 miles from upstate New York to get here," Jensen said. "There hasn't been a team from New York here since 1974 and our kids have been practicing since September to get here."
J.D. Gardner, 10, is one of the sharpshooters for the Broome County team as well as one of its youngest members.
"I started this from 4-H and found out I liked it," Gardner said. "This is my third year doing it and I've practiced a lot and have gotten better and better. I just like shooting with other people, because it's a fun sport. It takes hard concentration, but I try to block out everything and keep my eye on the target."
Gardner is one of the aces on Binghamton's squad, despite his youth.
"It's really nice to be one of the youngest shooters and still outshoot the older ones," Gardner said.
Gardner has gotten sponsors and held fundraising events with his team to get the opportunity to come to Rogers for the national match along with his parents, who have had to put their working lives on hold.
"To get to come here was a challenge for us getting off work and finding someone to take care of things, but it's worth every second," said Gardner's' mother Kathy. "It's a great experience and this place is so nice. We made it our family vacation."
The competition continues on Sunday with the sitting and kneeling events followed by the closing ceremonies and awards ceremony.