Los Alamos Young Guns coach Mike O’Neill and the four athletes, from left, Gavin Robles, Chantry Stermer, Sarah Randall and Hallie Vigil, who traveled to Hillsdale College in Michigan to compete in the National Junior Olympic Shotgun Competition July 2-7. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
‘Actually, we do shoot like girls!’ Sarah Randall, left, Chantry Stermer, center, and Hallie Vigil enjoy a laugh in between rounds of skeet July 24 at the Northern Rio Grande Sporting Club. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Sporting club members pose with team and coach. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Eric Smith and Denise Ekberg were on hand July 24 to watch and shoot alongside the four Los Alamos Young Guns athletes and their coach. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Hallie Vigil shoots skeet at the Northern Rio Grand Sporting Club. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Gavin Robles shoots skeet at the Northern Rio Grande Sporting Club. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Proud parents and club members watch the shooting July 24 at the Northern Rio Grande Sporting Club. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Attendees at a Northern Rio Grande Sporting Club July 24 event honor four Northern New Mexico athletes and their coach who competed in the National Junior Olympic Shotgun Competition in Hillsdale, Mich. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
John Henriksen, president of the Northern Rio Grande Sporting Club hands out checks from the club to help with the expenses associated with the Michigan trip. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Coach Mike O’Neill gets a little emotional as he presents Sara Randall with a certificate in honor of her competing in the National Junior Olympic Shotgun Competition July 2-7 in Hillsdale, Mich. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Longtime 4H shooting sports coach Chris Fresquez, far left, speaks to the athletes and their families, watched by John Henriksen, center and ‘Swede’ Ekberg. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Four athletes from the Los Alamos Young Guns traveled to Hillsdale College in Michigan where they competed in the 2021 National Junior Olympic Shotgun Competition July 2-7 in Hillsdale, Mich. Seven athletes qualified for the invitation to compete but only four, Chantry Stermer, Hallie Vigil, Sarah Randall and Gavin Robles were able to make the trip.
“The four teens probably never imagined when they started shooting trap and skeet that they would end up shooting on and/or leading five-member squads that included members of the Olympic team about to head to Tokyo to compete, or members of the National team,” said coach Mike O’Neill, who has been running the youth shotgun program at the Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club for the last 11 years.
Although named the Los Alamos Young Guns when the team was founded, the team now includes athletes from throughout Northern New Mexico. Chantry Stermer, 18, who just graduated from Escalante High School in June, has been coached by O’Neill for five years.
“I watched her progress from competing in the Northern New Mexico Youth Clay Target Challenge to the Scholastic Clay Target Program, which is for high school and middle school, and eventually on to Amateur Trap Association competitions, which are ranked by state and nationally. Finally, she moved into international bunker trap through U.S.A. Shooting which to led to being to being selected for the National Junior Olympic 2020 team,” O’Neill said. “If the pandemic had not been underway, Chantry would have represented the U.S. in the World Championships in Germany which were canceled.”
Stermer is heading to Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida on a shooting and academic scholarship. Her parents are Philip and Teresa Stermer of Cebolla.
Hallie Vigil, 20, joined the Los Alamos Young Guns four years ago when she was a senior at Pojoaque High School. She competed in the Scholastic Clay Target Program and Amateur Trap Associations. Vigil joined the West Texas A&M University Trap & Skeet team and continues to compete at the collegiate level as she heads into her senior year. Vigil is from Cundiyo. Her parents are Billy and Jolene Vigil.
Sarah Randall, 17, began shooting with the 4-H in Taos County. She joined the Los Alamos Young Guns three years ago as a freshman and has also competed in the Scholastic Clay Target Program and the Amateur Trap Association. She has progressed from trap to skeet to international bunker trap and is an incoming senior at Taos High School. Her parents are Boyd and Lisa Randall.
Gavin Robles, 16, of Truchas is the youngest of the four athletes. He began shooting with the 4-H program in Rio Arriba County and joined the Los Alamos Young Guns as an eighth grader. Robles has also competed in the SCTP and ATA competitions. His goal going forward is to qualify for the National Team in either international bunker trap or international skeet. He will be a junior this year at Pojoaque Valley High School. His parents are Diane Dominguez and Jenny Ramsey.
“To qualify for an invitation to the National Junior Olympic Competition, these athletes had to shoot in a state qualifier. They had to understand and know the game as well as the movements and the scoring,” O’Neill said. “This took a lot of practice and these athletes have traveled a lot of miles from their homes to make sometimes two practices a week in Los Alamos.”
The Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club has the only bunker trap facility in the state and the athletes competed in international bunker trap at Hillsdale.
Three of the athletes flew across the country for the competition, but O’Neill and one competitor and parent drove to Hillsdale, taking ammunition and firearms with them, a 1,500 mile one-way trip, that took two days. Some of the athletes and families stayed in the dormitories on campus.
On their first day, three ranges were open for bunker trap so Robles and O’Neill took the opportunity to shoot a few rounds while others were still traveling. All four athletes shot several rounds on July 3 which was open practice day. There were many athletes from Florida, Alaska and Texas staying in the dormitory including National Team member Julia Stallings, Matthew Kutz who was the open junior men’s silver medalist and Tony Meola who took the silver medal in the J2 competition for 15-18 year olds.
The Fourth of July was spent in Pre-Event Training, which was formerly called Olympic Training Regimen.
July 5 was the day of the actual competition. Several Olympians and national team members were squadded with the youth. They included 2021 Olympic team members Madelynn Bernau, Kayle Browning and Derrick Mein as well as national team members Ashley Carroll, Julia Stallings and Rachel Tozier. Also shooting were National Junior Team members Owen Bin, Jack Nelson, Faith Pendergrass, Ryann Phillips and Tristan Shroeder.
“As advertised on the Hillsdale event posters, the Los Alamos Young Guns truly did get to ‘shoot with the big guns’,” O’Neill said.
July 6 and 7 were the second and third days of competition.
“I am proud of all our athletes that went to Hillsdale College. It was not easy and they had to dig deep to meet the challenges of this competition which included temperatures and humidity in the high 90s as well as some equipment issues,” O’Neill. “Shooting at a national level a new experience for all but Chantry Stermer but they all rose to the challenge and represented Northern New Mexico with pride”.
The Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club sponsored the travel to Michigan, ammunition and registration to the tune of $6,000.
On Saturday, July 24, O’Neill and the four athletes along with their parents were invited to an event in their honor at the Northern Rio Grande Sporting Club in La Puebla which included two rounds of skeet with members, a barbecue and the presentation of checks to those who traveled to Michigan totaling $3,500 by Club President John Henriksen. The funds were raised by donations from some 27 club members.
Club member Chris Fresquez who has been involved in 4H youth shooting sports in Rio Arriba County for several years spoke about the evolution of the young athletes over the years from when they started out with trap and skeet, got the bug, and moved on to bunker trap, five stand and sporting clays.
“I want to recognize the parents that have helped them out and kept them involved in the program,” Fresquez said.
He noted that the Sporting Club has always been a big supporter of the young athletes, with several members having taken coach’s training and devoting a lot of time, effort, knowledge and experience. He said O’Neill has taken them to the next level and gotten them out with exposure throughout the country.
“Bunker trap is very challenging, so hats off to you guys. Keep up the good work. You guys are the future of the sport,” Fresquez said. “A lot of people get intimidated shooting at a moving target. You guys have shown it can be done and it can be fun.”
O’Neill took the opportunity to present the athletes with certificates inscribed with a very personal message to them in the form of a 1910 speech by President Theodore Roosevelt called “Citizenship in a Republic”, which reads as follows:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
O’Neill also coaches youth archery at the Los Sportsmen’s Club. He began shooting trap in 2001 at the age of 47. He is married to Maire O’Neill of the Los Alamos Reporter.
Team practices from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club in Rendija Canyon. Shooters do not have to be Los Alamos residents. Membership fees for national youth shooting sports organizations cost about $80 a year. Ammunition and clays cost an average of $20 a week. A parent must accompany their athlete. A limited number of club shotguns are available for beginners to use. For more information, call (505) 309-1762.