After the state rifle championships were over, officials announced that Madison County had taken first place. But the elation was short-lived.
Lumpkin County tied the Raiders with a 1,130.
The competition then came down to the scorekeepers.
In a rifle tiebreaker, scorekeepers go back over the individual targets and count “center shots,” which are dead-center shots covering the whole ten ring.
“This may seem insignificant to some readers but the difficulty is understood when learning that the ten ring is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence,” said assistant Raider coach Nathan Coker.
After an hour and a half debating in the score room Saturday at the Georgia High School Association’s Rifle Championships at Fort Benning’s Pool International Shooting Complex the results were in.
Lumpkin County had 46 center shots to 45 for Madison County.
“The only way to describe how close this match was is to take a period and cut it into 46 pieces,” said Coker. “Now take one of those pieces away and that’s by how much we lost.”
Match Director Larry Pendergrass announced to coaches that this was the closest match ever in the history of GHSA rifle matches.
After an amazing day at the competition the awards ceremony went on to announce members of the 2011-2012 all-state team. J.S. Fielding was named the team’s Co-Captain and Rifle Raiders Julie Wood and Parker Mize were also announced on this team of elite shooters.
Madison County was the only team to name more than one shooter into this group of all-stars.
After a stellar performance Mize stated his keys to success: “This has truly been an amazing year and an amazing day. There is no way that I would be standing in this spot if we didn’t put God first in all things that we do. I give him credit for the win.”
Mize also went on to mention that he felt like the team agreed with that statement.
The team prepared for months for the state competition.
“We’ve pushed them, and we’ve pushed them hard” said Madison County head coach Casey Dover. “I kept telling them up until the day of the shoot that no one in this state is going to beat them and that they could only beat themselves by not being mentally focused.”
Despite tying for the top score in the state, the team faced its obstacles Saturday.
For instance, Tiffany Brown was flagged by officials for her shooting jacket, which they said provided her an unfair advantage due to its size.
“The only option left was to let her use Parker Mize’s,” said Coker. “Ordinarily this would be simple except for the fact that Mize is right handed and Brown is left. The first relay of the match was about to begin and Brown quickly had to adapt to a jacket with hookups and padding were all designed for a right-handed shooters.
“I have to admit I was a little bit nervous walking out to the firing line” Brown later said. “But I know that I’ve trained all year for this and Coach Dover has taught me that no matter what the circumstance to believe in myself. And that’s just what I did.”
Brown’s gun then malfunctioned. And officials said she had eight minutes to fix her gun or replace it or she was disqualified. In a frenzied rush, coaches and parents alike were working to get a gun up and working.
Luckily, a trained gunsmith saw that there was a problem and offered an extra hand. He was able to repair Browns gun in under four minutes. The gun was rushed back out to her to continue shooting.
“I’m really proud of the way Tiffany stayed focused throughout her shoot,” said Dove after the match. “It really takes a skilled marksman to go through all that and not break down mentally. Julie (Wood) also did very well. It took a lot for her to keep focused with all that commotion going on around her.”
Brown fired a 271 and Wood had a 285.
Captain J.S. Fielding came out to shoot on relay 2. Fielding took position and began firing. He finished with a 98, one of the highest prone scores of the match. He fired a 92 in standing and a 96 in kneeling. He finished seventh in the state.
Fielding brought the team close to the top of the pack from fifth place to third. At this point Northside Columbus had first place followed closely by Luella, Madison was in third and Lumpkin in fourth.
For the final relay, Parker Mize was on deck to shoot. He made his way to his firing point not making eye contact with anyone; his eyes were fixated on the target. As the match commenced, Mize started gaining ground on the other two teams. He passed Luella with ease, finishing out his prone with a 97.
As he started standing everyone started to notice that once fourth place Lumpkin County had also downed Luella. As more shots were put down range, Mize finally passed Northside Columbus for first place, but so did Lumpkin who was now in second. Mize not knowing how close the match was finished standing with a 95 and went into the kneeling portion of the competition. He again hit bullseye after bullseye, finishing the target with a 96 giving him a total of 288. He finished third in the state.
The 2011-2012 Rifle Raider team is the most successful sports team in the school’s recent memory. The squad went undefeated for their 23rd straight regular season, finished the regular season with a first place ranking, had three members qualify individually for state, was the only team to have three members accepted to the all-state team, had Mize finish third overall, as the team finished second in the closest state match in history.
“This team is a perfect example of what hard work, dedication, and faith can get you,” said Coker.
The final match of the season has not even been finished for a week and many Raiders are already preparing for next year. J.S. Fielding is working hard, competing in various matches to be ready for his freshman year at Columbus State University. Parker Mize and Julie Wood are both competing in the State 4-H match on May 5 to get more match experience and to get more prepared for next season, and a few others have requested to keep their equipment to practice with over the summer.
“As they keep working and setting their standards high the only way the team can go is up,” said Coker. “The Rifle Raiders 2012-2013 season will be an exciting one to say the least.”
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