CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Three years ago, Don Leonard brought together the Scarborough Fish and Game Association and the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club to create a junior competition air-rifle team.
Now, the coach can boast a junior championship squad.
Leonard’s team placed first in Division II during February’s state matches, and later that month, Brandon Bryer, 17, of Scarborough bested dozens of other shooters to take the junior state air-rifle championship.
“It’s tickled me to no end, working with these juniors,” Leonard said earlier this month at a Spurwink gun club spaghetti dinner and meeting, where Bryer received his champion plaque. “For them to turn around and do this is just awe-inspiring for me.”
That’s no small praise coming from a former pistol-team gunsmith for the U.S. Marine Corps. Leonard served in the Marines for 14 years in the 1960s and ’70s and built guns for the Marine shooting team and Olympic shooters.
“It gave me the opportunity to stand behind the best competitors and gain a lot of insight,” Leonard said.
Now he serves as chief range safety officer for the Scarborough Fish and Game Association. He trains the junior team twice a week and coaches them at competitions nearly every other weekend.
The team welcomes young men and women of a range of ages. It’s currently composed of Bryer; Lydia Odlin, 17, of Scarborough; Dominic Morin, 16, of Cape Elizabeth; and Lillian Erickson, 13, of Scarborough.
Felicity Mangeri of South Portland, who shot with the team until recently, was just 9 years old when she competed with the team last summer at the National Matches at Camp Perry in Port Clinton, Ohio.
“She is cuter than a button and she shoots pretty good, too,” Leonard said.
The coach said he is grooming his shooters to try and compete at the Olympic level.
That’s one of Bryer’s long-term goals, although right now he’ll settle for state champion. A high school junior, Bryer recently visited the University of Tennessee at Martin, which has the country’s 13th-ranked shooting program. There he met with players and coaches and participated in a team practice.
He hopes to earn a scholarship to shoot at the collegiate level. The recruitment process is similar to other NCAA Division I sports, Bryer said, and he expects to sign a national letter of intent next year.
Bryer works at Hannaford after school. He likes country music and basketball. He plans to become a veterinarian.
But he’s been shooting since elementary school, and he said there’s nothing quite like it.
“You have to focus and get your body in sync with your mind,” Bryer said. “You concentrate on your breathing, your trigger and your follow-through.”
At the Spurwink gun club meeting, Bryer gave a demonstration on the use of his .22-caliber, single-shot, bolt-action air rifle. He showed club members the special pants, jacket and boots he wears in competitive matches, the 95-minute contests in which shooters fire 60 pellets at a bull’s-eye 10 meters away.
It’s safe to say the club members were impressed.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Tammy Walter, president of the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club. “We get a lot of bad publicity, and I’m just so happy that there are such good things that come out of this club, too.”