By now, members of the Illinois Hard Dogs have become accustomed to every reaction.
When people discover their passion for competitive shooting, some are positive and interested in learning more about the sport. Others judge and focus on the negative connotations associated with young people and guns.
“Sometimes it can get very tense, depending on who you talk to and what their views on firearms are,” said Devin Kriesant, a 14-year-old competitive shooter from Crystal Lake. “But for the most part, people are really supportive.”
Kriesant, 16-year-olds Andrew Friend and Sam SanFilippo of Cary, and 13-year-olds Tyler and Brandon Tomasello of Crystal Lake will take their best shot in one of the most prestigious events their sport has to offer in the Civilian Marksmanship Program national competition in Camp Perry, Ohio.
With the festivities set to begin Friday, the five area residents will compete with their Hard Dogs team in the high-powered rifle division. The Illinois Hard Dogs are an Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA) affiliated club featuring boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 18 from around the state.
“It’s a great program,” said Ted Mazurski, both a former chairman of the Illinois junior program and director at the ISRA. “We teach kids the safe and legal way to do these things. And there’s a lot of camaraderie between the kids.”
The CMP national meet, which was started by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, takes place at the historic military base in Camp Perry for the 105th year. The event hosts more than 6,000 competitors each year.
Before the boys are eligible to participate, they must already have participated in matches across the Midwest and shot more than 400 rounds while competing.
“It’s a great experience,” said Friend, a Cary-Grove junior who will make his fourth appearance in the tournament. “It’s definitely cool when you have all the teenagers from all over the country competing against each other.”
At the historic event, which is scheduled to continue through next week in the high-powered rifle division, shooters take aim at a black target 18-inches wide from 200 yards out. They also will move back to 300 yards, before attempting to hit a 24-inch bulls eye from 600 yards out.
The competitors also are required to shoot from standing, sitting and prone positions, as well as use slow and rapid-fire techniques.
As tough as it sounds, consider that there are no scopes on their AR-15 rifles; only iron sights are used to line up the miniscule targets.
“You have to be able to sit still, control your breathing and position yourself correctly,” said Russ Friend of Cary, chairman of the junior Hard Dogs program. “There is also a mental aspect. Good shooters spend a lot of time thinking about every shot they’re going to take. It’s tough – people can spend an entire lifetime trying to excel at all those things.”
According to Russ Friend, there have been no changes made to this year’s national competition in the wake of the mass shooting that took the lives of 12 people – including a Crystal Lake man – in a Colorado movie theater last weekend.
“I think for those of us in the sport who believe in the safe and legal ownership of firearms, this is another example of one disturbed individual,” Russ Friend said. “The firearm didn’t do it. The person did it.”
“I don’t see how kids competing in a sport has anything to do with something that has happened and gained so much attention in another part of the country.”