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Central High School Navy JROTC Air Rifle Team Sets their Sights on Excellence

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Retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Michael Arnett is justly proud of his Navy Junior ROTC students. Recently, his Air Rifle Team, made up of Kaleb St. Clair, Alexa Tybor, Evan Elders, and Travis Sickler, won top honors at a state competition in Orlando against 28 other teams. Evan Elders also won an individual competition against 108 other athletes from around the state.

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This achievement entitles them to represent the state of Florida at a competition in Utah in February, where they will go up against all the other outstanding teams in the nation. In fact,

Central’s team currently ranks fourth in the country out of 272 schools, and Kaleb St. Clair ranks ninth among 2,473 athletes in the nation.
Winning accolades like this is an accomplishment in itself because the school is an underdog considering they compete against much larger schools in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Tampa, and other communities. However, 2022 marks the fifth consecutive year that the Central High School team has won the state championship.

“They have sacrificed so much of their time and energy practicing more than two hours every day,” Arnett states. “This team is one of a very few in our state−and in any sport−that can claim such a distinguished record.”

These students give up their free time after school and, unlike many other air rifle teams around the country, do not have a dedicated place to practice. So instead, they utilize the school cafeteria, which means they have to break down and put away the tables and other furnishings to clear out an area for practice and then put everything back in place afterward.

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The team uses a type of air rifle that utilizes a pellet instead of a round BB. Their target is at ten meters distance (approximately thirty-three feet), and they aim at a bullseye that is just ½ millimeter in diameter. From that position, they can’t see the bullseye, and they have to line their sight up to get as close as possible to the bullseye. The athletes compete in three different positions. One is prone, one is standing up with no support, and one is in the kneeling position. They have ten shots in each position. Needless to say, it takes a lot of practice to become an expert at this.

The four team members–three males and one female−each bring a different perspective to the sport. Team captain Kaleb St. Clair is a senior and plans to attend Jacksonville University on a scholarship, then transfer to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Upon graduation, he’ll enter the Navy as a commissioned officer. His ultimate goal is to become a pilot.
“The most benefit that I’ve gotten from this program is that it’s developed my leadership skills and integrity, and it’s helped me with self-discipline,” Kaleb states.

Alexa Tybor is a senior also and plans to attend Jacksonville University, where she’ll earn a Bachelor’s degree in Childhood Development. She wants to become a mental health therapist for children. Alexa is one of six females in the Air Rifle program and states that females actually dominate in the sport. “I decided to go into this program because it’s both mentally and physically challenging. It taught me what I can take and what I can’t take,” remarks Alexa.

Sgt. Arnett and the four team members agree that competing against each other and against other teams has brought them close together like a family.
Senior Evan Elders plans to attend Jacksonville University, major in Computer Science, and join the Navy.
“The hardest thing is trying to shoot better than the day before because there is so much you can get wrong. There’s a meticulous way in which you have to get things done, and sometimes you get disappointed,” states Evan.

Travis Sickler, the only junior on the team, hasn’t decided what he wants to do after he graduates but is considering joining the Navy when he finishes college.“It’s very mentally challenging. If you get into your head too much, it can cause you to perform poorly. The most enjoyable part is being around my friends,” says Travis.

Sgt. Arnett has taught air rifle skills in the NJROTC for eight years and has worked with these particular students for approximately three years. This program is just one of the many programs in that Junior ROTC cadets can participate. However, the goals of all the programs are the same–to teach leadership skills, self-discipline, morals, and citizenship.

The cadets may choose from several programs geared to a student’s interests or skills. Programs include the drill, land navigation, and drone teams. In addition, their Aeronautical Science team is part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) program. For students who are not athletically inclined, an Academic team competes in “Brain Brawls” with other Academic teams.

As an example of how seriously the students take being in the Navy JROTC program, the unit was recognized this year as the Most Improved Unit in the nation. All of us will be cheering on the Air Rifle team when they go up against the best of the best in February.

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