The Missouri Military Academy Rifle Team has set its sights on reviving a tradition that began at the Academy in 1928: winning a national championship. MMA won four national championships – the 1928, ’29, ’30, and ’34 teams each brought home the coveted William Randolph Hearst National Trophy, followed by a second place national finish in 1938 and a third place finish in ’40.
Although the national trophy hasn’t come home since 1934, the desire for repeating that achievement remains. That motivation is why team members practice from 0600 to 0700 and 1600 to 1730 five times each week. It’s why they fire disciplined shots from very uncomfortable positions as slow minutes click arduously by, training themselves for top performance and developing mental discipline that benefits them on the range, in the classroom and beyond.
"Staying true to our recently published strategic plan, MMA has aggressively sought to field a highly competitive rifle team by providing the leadership, coaching, training and resources necessary,” says Missouri Military Academy President Brigadier General Richard V. Geraci, USA (Ret). “Our rifle team is a stellar example of one of MMA’s Army JROTC programs that provides opportunities for our cadets to compete at the state, regional and national level."
According to Geraci, the team’s success is positively and significantly impacted by the support of patrons and alumni.
“At MMA, we provide the structure, discipline and leadership to help our rifle team and all of our cadets excel,” Geraci says. “But the support we receive from our patrons and alumni truly puts us a step above, enabling us to provide the absolute very best we can for our cadets.”
Team Leadership and Growth
Captain Joseph Balvanz, MMA rifle team coach and military department chair, brings over 21 years of tactical rifle firing, rifle hunting, coaching and mentoring to the team.
“One of the greatest conduits of change I can imbue to an individual cadet is to ask 'why me' and 'why now',” he says about his two years of coaching the MMA rifle team. “How is what I’m doing important, and how can I discover and reach my full potential?”
Captain Balvanz tries hard to maintain a culture of mutual respect and service to the cadets, a relationship he believes is so important to the development of all young men. He is also responsible for overseeing the safety measures* in place to keep our cadets safe throughout rifle practice and competition.
A certified NRA high power rifle coach and pistol instructor, MMA Rifle Team Assistant Coach Michael Shoemaker has supported the rifle team for three years. “The most important shot is the next shot” is a hallmark phrase he employs to remind the cadets to fully commit to the task at hand. His vast education through firing and coaching seminars gives the team a completely different perspective on the sport. While Captain Balvanz brings experience from service rifle marksmanship, Shoemaker adds a layer afforded only through his many years of long distance rifle fire practice.
Two years ago, Captain Balvanz transitioned into his role as rifle team coach and focused on building the team through honing his own education and skills as coach and making sure the team had all the essential supplies needed to compete. Under his leadership in 2018-19, the team saw strides in success, earning numerous significant accolades. Among them:
- Earning five seats at the National Qualifier in Camp Perry, Ohio. While there, cadets earned outstanding personal achievements: Cadet Griffin Henry earned a national ranking of 162nd, and improved his average in all three firing positions. Cadet Rhys Bullington earning 193rd, William Baker earning 228th, Gabriel Abiyants earning 251st, and Sean Hughes 254th.
- Missouri State Champions of the American Legion Postal Match
- 1st Place Team winners of the Fighting Rams Postal of Gainesville, Florida
- 1st Place Rookie Team winners of the Forsyth High School Marine Corps JROTC Postal
- Several “Individual Overall Top Shot” firers and “Top Place Positions” during postal events, from Cadets Ruby Kagaragwa, William Baker, Evan Dawson, and Buqing Ma.
One of the greatest benefits of this sport is how much change occurs inside the firer, according to Balvanz, who cites that many studies have concluded that concentrated firing leads to an increase in a myriad of skills required of top performing students and leaders in life.
“Take mental discipline for example, which many experienced shooters will tell you is perhaps 90% of the energy needed for a great shot,” says Balvanz. “Concentration and focus are required at the same time that outside influences – both on and off the range – are trying to drive your heart through your chest and through your finger.”
MMA’s young cadets train to sharpen their mental toughness by focusing all energy to the pull of the trigger and maintaining that discipline throughout long matches.
The skills refined by the rifle team also contribute to benefits inside the classroom. Rifle training hones skills that contribute significantly to increases in courage, confidence, stamina, physical balance, and perhaps most importantly, personal responsibility. Although this is a team sport in one sense, individuals are absolutely accountable to themselves and their teammates, for every shot in practice and during a competition. A firer with a bad day can’t be covered down on by a firer with a great day, as with most all other team sports.
“My favorite part of being on the rifle team is the sense of camaraderie and teamwork,” says Cadet Lance Newland, an MMA sophomore from Portland, Oregon, who earned recognition as the most improved firer during a Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) sanctioned clinic this summer.
Newland describes rifle team as unique compared to other team sports because each team member competes individually, then the scores are compiled to determine the group’s ranking, giving cadets a sense of responsibility both for their own performance and the success of the team.
“Every team member is equally important and valued in their contribution to the overall success of the team,” Newland says. “As a new member of the team and to the sport, it was important to me to make an impact from day one and to contribute to the overall success of the team.”
Beyond improving his rifle skills, Newland says participating on the team also helped him better manage his time and responsibilities.
“(Being on the team) meant forcing myself out of bed at 5 am to be ready for rifle practice, even when I'm tired and don't feel like going. I also had to be more organized with school work so that I could get everything done and maintain a high GPA,” he says.
Opportunities for Advancing the Rifle Team
This year, Captain Balvanz is working to advance the team’s training and our cadets’ skills and success by standing up the first ever MMA Marksmanship Course and achieving funding for approximately $12,000 worth of shooting equipment and necessary expendable supplies such as shooting gloves, mats, kneeling rolls, targets, and lead free pellets.
As with any competitive group, MMA’s Rifle Team must refit and retool to keep the facilities and resources competitive with the current trends of the sport.
“Most of our functional rifles are over 20 years old, and consequently, they require more maintenance than newer rifles,” says Captain Balvanz. “I am confident that our cadets would rise to an even higher level with newer rifles.”
His three-year plan includes purchase of the following:
- a minimum of 12 Daisy 599 Sporter class rifles ($595 each)
- four Anschutz 9015 precision class rifles ($2,450 each)
- four precision suits required of the most competitive class of shooting.
Due to the large investment required to meet the team’s equipment needs, Balvanz has requested grants from the National Rifle Association and the Midway Foundation. Additional funding from MMA supporters would also help close the competitive gap caused by the team’s older rifles.
Balvanz’s plan also includes expanding the current MMA firing range from 10 lanes to 12, making the additional two lanes digital (a $10,000 investment). This digital system is the same used at Camp Perry, Ohio and Anniston, Alabama.
“Having two lanes dedicated to digital scoring will all but eliminate the learning curve associated with the different target system,” says Balvanz. “Moving from the paper targets currently used on campus to the digital variant provides us a unique training advantage.”
According to Balvanz, the increase in rifle team resources on campus would open the door for both improved performances by the team members. MMA has been selected as the host site for the Missouri State Rifle Championships in Jan. 2020 — the additional resources will also support MMA in delivering a successful event to all competitors. Hosting the state competition allows MMA to opportunity to introduce firers, coaches, and supporters from across the state to MMA’s campus and gives our team home field advantage.
“Last year, we showed team pride by painting the rifle range maroon and gold and displaying trophies of the past,” says Balvanz. “This year, we’d really like to add a few more trophies to the shelf.”
“I am confident that we have some very talented cadets that will represent the Academy extremely well this year, including during the state competition at our home range,” Geraci says. “We look forward to welcoming the state’s top competitors and showcasing the resources that support and discipline that shape the MMA rifle team.”
For more information about the MMA’s Rifle Team Coaching Staff or how you could help contribute to these goals, please contact Captain Balvanz at 573-581-1776, ext. 433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*A Note about Rifle Range Safety
The safety of our cadets is a top priority at MMA. The following measures are in place to ensure their protection, so they may learn and compete safely while on the rifle team:
- All cadets are required to pass the JROTC Air Rifle Marksmanship Cadet Safety Examination with a score of 100%.
- All commands on the range are given by the Range Safety Officer (CPT Balvanz or Mr. Shoemaker).
- All personnel on the range and in observance are range safeties and can call a cease fire for any safety violation.
- Muzzle awareness is emphasized at all times, and clear barrel indicator is used whenever not actively firing. This device ensures that the rifle cannot fire, and there is not an obstruction or a pellet in the barrel.
- A conveyor system brings the target to each cadet, so cadets never need to walk down range to check their targets.
- The ammo is propelled by compressed air, not gunpowder. The pellets we use are completely lead free (tin), and zero lead products are used in our range.
- Eye protection is available for all cadets firing or observing.