PANORAMA - Top shots

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Wa-Hi senior and captain of the Rifle Marksmanship Team, Rishi Patel glances from his rifle scope to check a shot on his laptop screen target readout, reflecting from his eye.

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Hailee Fenton, center, stretches before practices while Caitlyn Lasseigne, left, readies her shooting spot.

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Tight groupings from targets register on JROTC team coach Sgt. 1st Class Mark Mebes' computer screen as Sarah Jameson, left and Hailee Fenton practice at the Walla Walla High School indoor firing range.

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Sgt. 1st Class Mark Mebes

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Lt. Col. Bill Bialozor

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Sarah Jameson, a Wa-Hi sophomore, prepares herself for a shot.

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The silence in the Walla Walla High School rifle range is broken every few seconds by the click of air rifles releasing pellets, followed immediately by the clang of pellets striking their intended targets.

Besides being intensely quiet, the room is also sparsely filled, as just a few students in the school's precision shooting team are taking shots, while a few others are either arriving or getting ready for their turns.

On this day, members of the precision team are shooting for a chance to compete in the All Service Air Rifle Championship in Alabama this month. The team is so good, nine students have shot scores this year qualifying them for the national event. But only four students can travel to the competition.

JROTC instructor Lt. Col. Bill Bialozor and shooting team coach Mark Mebes will choose the top four shooters based on scores from this shoot-off. With so many students shooting exceptionally, it's hard to say who will be on top.

"We're always switching spots. We never know who's on top," said Sarah Jameson, a member of the precision shooting team who is in her second year shooting.

Wa-Hi's JROTC rifle marksmanship students have a history of talent. The trophies in the rifle range, located in a space in the school's small gymnasium, offer some of the proof.

The program is also one of the oldest in the country. Shooting team coach Sgt. 1st Class Mark Mebes said Walla Walla High School officially began its JROTC programs in 1916, as one of the inaugural five in the country.

"We know nationally, when JROTC started in the high schools, we were one of the first five," Mebes said.

Wa-Hi's JROTC programs are linked to the U.S. Army. JROTC stands for Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

Bialozor said the mission of the programs is to motivate young people to be better citizens. The program has about 135 students in its classes. JROTC offers seven drill teams, and the sporter and precision shooting teams. Only the top shooters who have done sporter already qualify for the precision team.

In the All Service Air Rifle Championship, Wa-Hi students will be competing from school's represented by the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps JROTC programs. The top teams from each service from across the nation will be at the Alabama competition.

This year, Wa-Hi is represented by an especially talented group of students, in both its sporter and precision teams.

Although a sophomore, Jameson is one of the top shooters on the team, with her performance during the shoot-off as one indication. Jameson had just completed firing 10 rounds in the prone position, which is laying face down on the ground. Students looking to be in the top 4 each shot 10 times in three poses: prone, standing, and on one knee. Their intended target lies 10 meters, or about 33 feet, away.

At the end of the 10-meter range is a black circle indicating where the pellets should be aimed.

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