WALLA WALLA — After years of success shooting air rifles, including winning a national championship this past spring, Walla Walla High School’s Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps precision rifle team is looking to take things up a notch.
The School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to allow JROTC instructors Bill Bialozor and Mark Mebes to form a small-bore rifle marksmanship club at the high school to give its best shooters a chance to earn college shooting team scholarships.
The club would shoot .22 long rifle caliber rifles using the existing JROTC range on campus in the gymnasium building. The range was updated in 2011, but retained the ability to be used for small-bore rifle shooting in addition to air rifles.
Washington law prohibits firearms from being brought on campus in most cases, but makes exceptions for law enforcement officers and air rifle or firearms shooting competitions.
Bialozor told the board at Tuesday’s meeting that the rifles and ammunition would be stored in safes while not in use, and that both he and Mebes, the rifle team coach, are certified Civilian Marksmanship Program instructors.
“The most important thing to me in our schools is safety,” Board member David Hampson said, “and I am absolutely convinced this is safe.”
The board voted unanimously to allow the club to form, but added an amendment to require a reauthorization of the club should either Bialozor or Mebes leave the program.
Bialozor said the club will form within the next few weeks and consist of six to eight members who will be hand-selected by either Bialozor or Mebes.
Wa-Hi will be the only high school in Washington state to have a school-sanctioned small-bore rifle team, Bialozor said.
The club will be operated at no cost to the district, Bialozor said. It has already received a $2,000 grant from the American Legion to purchase two rifles — highly customizable and accurate rifles not unlike the ones used by Olympic shooters — and has received private donations to purchase ammo.
The primary reason Bialozor and Mebes wanted to form a small-bore club is to make their shooters more attractive to college shooting programs, which shoot both air rifles and small-bore rifles.
Wa-Hi has had a pair of students recently sign scholarships to shoot with the University of Nevada-Reno, Caitlyn Lasseigne and Sarah Jameson, but Bialozor said many college coaches would not, or could not, consider prospects without experience shooting small-bore rifles.
Bialozor said he hoped the club would be able to compete in its first events in January.
Ben Wentz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8315.