Front Row L to R:
Liz Pike, Camille Lathbury, Elizabeth Telford, Morgan Lluy, Virginia Holman, Eve Holman
Back Row L to R:
Olivia Cliff, David Wilmore, Daniel Cliff, Ryan Anderson, Stewert Hahn, Andrew Miller
Every couple of years, folks around the globe tune in to watch Olympic athletes perform amazing feats, set new world records and make the citizens of their home nations proud. What we don’t see is the effort, dedication and commitment it takes to reach these levels of peak performance. These athletes work year-round, for a decade or more, often starting their training at a young age.
In the shooting sports, there are clubs all across the United States training young shooters to reach these levels, and arguably no club has the reputation of the Arlington Optimist ACORNS Jr. Rifle Club. But this is not a club for beginners, warns club president Paul Lluy. “There are several local shooting clubs that introduce juniors to the shooting sports and basic gun safety and marksmanship. Coaches let us know about the best and most dedicated shooters at these clubs, and that is how we do most of our recruiting for the ACORNS,” he said.
Since the 1950s, the ACORNS have been recruiting and training some of the best junior shooters in the nation. Acorn alums include Army Maj. Michael E. Anti, who won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and former NCAA National Champion Shannon Wilson. Just this year, the ACORNS won four national championships: NRA 3-Position Air Rifle, 3-Position Smallbore, International Air Rifle and the Junior Olympic Team Air Rifle Championships. In fact, the ACORNS have won the NRA Sectional Team Championships more often than any other club in the nation.
Many of the ACORNS start out at age 12 and stay in the program the whole time. “Each year, three or four of our shooters graduate high school, and many of them join collegiate teams,” said Paul Lluy, whose own daughter Morgan recently signed a National Letter of Intent to shoot with the Texas Christian University rifle program. “We will then advertise that we have openings and try to keep a team of 14-16 shooters at a time,” he added.
Becoming an ACORN is no small commitment, and the club is set up for young shooters who want to reach the next level in their training. Practice and competition occurs year-round, and requires a significant amount of travel. This year, the Northern Virginia-based ACORNS competed in Pennsylvania, Camp Perry, Ohio, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, and New Mexico. Individual team members, such as sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, have qualified for the Junior Olympic National Team and can travel around the globe for competitions.
The equipment necessary for each junior shooter can cost as much as $7,000 or more, mostly for the custom-built rifles they each need. Of course, as they grow, they sometimes need new equipment and their rifles may need to be adjusted by a gunsmith to ensure a custom fit.
What makes the ACORNS so successful? “Our club is aided immensely by the commitment of our parents and shooters, the excellent coaches who volunteer their time, many of whom are champions in their own right, and the tremendous support we receive from our community,” said Bill Terry, who has been the ACORNS’ head coach since 1994.
It is no surprise that success on the range often translates to academic achievement as well. According to Meredith Holman, another ACORN alum, “Focus and concentration are the keys to good shooting as well as to success in school.” Holman herself spent seven years as an ACORN before receiving a scholarship to attend the University of Mississippi as part of that school’s all-female NCAA rifle team. A senior now, Holman has one of her sisters as a teammate and two more already signed up to join the Ole Miss rifle team, all former ACORNS.
Other sports may draw more attention, but the determination, camaraderie and enthusiasm these young shooters demonstrate on the range and off makes them all champions.