From left, Parkview seniors Will Zimmerman, Jonathan Stoves and Rylee Frisbey are the backbone of the Panthers rifle team which shoots this weekend in Columbus for the state title. (Staff Photo: Ben Beitzel)
LILBURN — All in one line stands the Parkview rifle team. This time of practice they are standing, in full gear and ready to shoot. The shooters await the command to begin.
Loud and forceful it comes from coach Ron Tootle. A timer starts and the shooting begins. Each shooter gets 10 shots at 10 different targets, points are awarded the closer the shot hits the center.
This is the only way to practice competitive rifle, shooting with the clock running. It’s the only way to simulate the pressure of a match and it’s from the pressure that miss-hits happen.
“The rest is between your ears,” Tootle said. “It’s like free-throw shooting, we teach fundamentals and are big on consistency.
“The mental aspect is the hardest part.”
This is the fourth year for the varsity rifle team at Parkview and the preaching and practice are shining. The rifle team heads to Fort Benning in Columbus for its second crack at the state finals, this time undefeated in matches and coming off a semifinal win over Navy JROTC national champion Upson-Lee. In the match, the team shot a 1,135 out of a perfect 1,200 possible.
“Four years ago, 1,100 was a great day,” Tootle said. “This is the team I’ve been working on for four years.”
Of the Panthers’ 16 shooters, nine are seniors and three of them are four-year shooters. Tootle credits the depth as one of his program’s strengths, but points to three shooters as the “backbone” of his team. There is two-year captain and three-year shooter Jonathan Stoves and four-year shooters Rylee Frisbey and Will Zimmerman. Stoves plans to shoot at the Naval Academy next year, Frisbey at North Georgia and Zimmerman is also considering shooting at North Georgia.
Entering high school, none of them had considered varsity rifle. They were all members of Parkview’s JROTC program and the recruiting from Tootle helped them sign up.
Frisbey and Zimmerman both shot recreationally growing up. Frisbey had his first .22 at age 7, a gift from his father. Zimmerman shot rifles and pistols.
For Frisbey, rifle replaced lacrosse and Zimmerman chose it to avoid other ROTC disciplines like drill team.
“(Rifle) was nothing like I imagined it was going to be,” Frisbey said. “I like being able to come in here and shoot every day. It clears your mind, not that I need to clear it, but it’s kind of an escape.”
The quietness of mind also appealed to Stoves. Stoves participated in drill team as a freshman and bolted to the rifle team as a sophomore.
“I got good at it,” Stoves said. “I turned out to be a lot better at it than I thought I would be.
“It’s very calming, peaceful. It lets me go into my own little world. I can get here and stick to my own thoughts.”
The captain Stoves keeps the most serious approach during this practice while Frisbey shoots a little more carefree and Zimmerman strides between the two, straddling focus and fun. It’s all their own way of working through the pressures of the small targets, weary muscles and ticking clock.
“Without a mental game you don’t have a game,” Stoves said.
And even though this is nominally a practice there is still real pressure. For this weekend’s state meet, Tootle must pick his top four shooters for the competition and he bases his decision by mixing past performance, experience and recent results. To take home a state champion, he must pick the best four on that day. There is not alternate or dropped score.
“Hopefully, you pick the right four,” he said.
Tootle, and his shooters, all know the tradition at Parkview. They see the state title banners hanging all over the school and none read rifle.
“I want to win,” Tootle said. “We don’t have one in rifle, so it’d be nice.”