- Bruce Elliott
Jennifer Pason and Wesley Hess were among the 30 youth who sojourned to Colorado Springs from across the country for the challenge of the American Legion's 14th annual Junior Air Rifle National Championship at the Olympic Training Center last week.
Pason, a high school junior from Milford, N.J., became the tournament's precision category champion after averaging roughly 9.8 points per shot -- out of a 10-point maximum -- during the three-day event's 25 matches.
Hess, a high school senior from Humble, Texas, won the event's sporter category, while averaging about 9.2 points per shot in the same number of matches.
Precision category shooters don vibration-reducing pants, shoes and jackets for maximum accuracy and use top-of-the-line imported air rifles, explained the match director, Dave Rehbein. Sporter rifles are cheaper, and participants wear street clothes while firing.
Pason and Hess have been involved with shooting sports for eight years and 11 years, respectively.
Said Hess: "I've always grown up around shooting. Shooting is just my life."
The 17-year-old plans to attend West Point after graduating from high school next spring.
Asked whether he is afraid of one day having to fight in Iraq or a similar war, Hess quickly replied, "Oh, no way. That's just part of the job. I'm looking forward to it."
The 16-year-old Pason, meanwhile, is noncommittal about her future. "Military or not, I'm still looking at everything."
Both champions spoke to the challenge of honing one's skills and the reward of personal accomplishment.
"Being able to do well and really believe in yourself [is the most fun part]," Pason said.
She also echoed the widely held belief that shooters develop exemplary self-control. "It's a very disciplined sport. If you're disciplined here, you're disciplined in school and anything else in life."
As tournament winners, Pason and Hess will receive $1,000 college scholarships courtesy of the Sons of the American Legion.
-- by Michael Beckel
photo by Bruce Elliot