ROGERS, Ark. Cousins who live only two hours from each other had a family reunion of sorts in Rogers, Ark., at the 45th Annual Daisy National BB Gun Match.
Ross Norton of Clemson, S.C., and Brian Fussell of Cummings, Ga., grew up attending family get togethers once or twice a year since their mothers, Cynthia Gill and Emily Jacobs, were close first cousins.
When Norton and Fussell reached adulthood and started their own families, those memorable get-togethers came less and less. That is until the cousins met at Rogers High School while watching their sons, Tripp Norton and Gill Fussell, compete in the Daisy event this weekend.
"We probably saw each other five or six times a year, but this is the first time our kids have been together where they could remember it," Norton said. "Our grandmothers were sisters."
"We didn't know we were shooting at the same place until an older relative of ours thought that Ross and his family were going to Arkansas," Fussell said. "I think it's great to connect like this with family. It's good to meet in Rogers. All of the our grandmother's sisters were tight, therefore that made the cousins close and that kept everyone in touch. It's amazing."
Both of the cousins have been shooting coaches for their sons through the Daisy BB Gun clubs in their respective cities. The Nortons and the Fussells chose different ways to build their sons shooting abilities to the national level.
"My son has some health problems and most of the time he hasn't been able to do any of the traditional sports," Norton said of Tripp. "We had tried several things and we had finally landed with a good BB gun team in nearby Pendleton."
In Georgia, Fussell's son Gill played baseball and basketball, but found that BB gun shooting was more to his liking.
"For the most part, he really didn't take to those sports like his older brothers did and we looked around for another activity for him," Fussell said. "We found out about shooting at the 4-H Club and since is grandfather hunted, he got interested in it. We really found it by accident."
Gill, who shoots with the Forsyth County Aces, and Tripp, from the Anderson Aces, immediate became friends and swapped state pins at Daisy's traditional barter session on Sunday between position events.
"It was fun to meet him," Gill said. "I'm a Georgia Bulldog football fan and he's from Clemson, so I think Georgia will win."
"I think Clemson is better," Tripp said. "But when Gill comes to South Carolina, I'm going to take him fishing in some of my favorite ponds. Shooting BB guns is my favorite thing to do, but I like fishing, too. I don't think about us being in competition against each other, I am competing against myself and that's something we can both do well."
Obviously, both have BB gun shooting in common, but Gill would entertain Tripp by showing him the Georgia way to shoot and fish, as well.
"This is a fun place," Gill said of the Daisy Nationals. "And meeting my cousin here made it even better."
Veteran teaches first-timer
Humble, Texas' Lake Houston 4-H Outdoor Explorer coach Wally Hess has taught the life-lesson values of BB gun shooting to many groups of students over the last 25 years.
His young shooters have been regular attendees of the Daisy Nationals by learning how to reach goals.
"We teach them how to attain their goals and evaluate their progress," Hess said. "Being here at Daisy's home this year is wonderful. It's a beautiful area. We're from Houston where it's hot and humid so this weather is great to us and the people here have been unbelievably friendly."
One of Hess' main pupils isn't a youngster, though.
Assistant coach Frank Butkiewicz began coaching with Hess three years ago when his daughters Kimberly and Carrie became interested in shooting.
"This is my first time here and it's been sort of like a family vacation for us," Butkiewicz said. "I've learned a lot from Coach Hess and I'm going to keep on learning as long as he keeps doing this. I was never a competitive shooter, because they didn't have it where I grew up, so I really didn't realize what competition shooting was all about until I started learning from him."
Returners target prize
Brett Gunderson knows what to do in the face of tough competition like that at the Daisy National Match.
Gunderson has been to the national event two other times and knew what to expect.
"It's been different each time," said the Buffalo Youth Shooting Sports member from Buffalo, Minn. "In the shooting part, you have to know breath control, how to squeeze the trigger and being steady in your follow through. My coaches have been doing this for 27 years, so they've really helped me out."
It was by chance that Gunderson found the BB gun sport.
"My mom saw it advertised in the local paper and thought it was gun training," he said. "We went to the local Jaycees and they set us up and got me into it."
Like Gunderson, Richland Area Shooters Club member Sawyer Peterson is a returning shooter.
"This is the second one I've been too and it's pretty fun," Peterson said. "We get to shoot against others from all around the country. I got into it because my mom and dad have been in the club for years. This is a cool place and I'm getting to meet a lot of people."
Sam Shroyer of the Brock's Gap Training Center Juniors team from Helena, Ala., has also been to the national competition twice.
"I found out about this through our Scout program," Shroyer said. "We went to a day camp and did some shooting and that was interesting to me. The fact you can have fun doing it and you shoot against yourself."
However, not many shooters have attended the Daisy nationals four times like fellow Brock's Gap member Sammy Richardson.
"My dad (Sam) is the coach and since this is my fourth year, I will be an alternate next time,"
Richardson said. "It's a long drive to get here, but you get to hang out with everybody and make new friends. The competition isn't too terribly hard as long as you can hang with the good guys."
Richland Area Shooters member Caleb Johnson likes the fact his father Jeff got to attend the nationals with him.
As a first-time shooter at the annual Daisy event, having his father's encouragement gave him the confidence he needed to shoot well.
"It's pretty cool seeing new places," Caleb said. "My dad got me into shooting at the 4-H club where we live. He taught me how to hold a gun and hit a target. My favorite is the prone position, because you are lying down and you can rest the gun on your arm and against your shoulder. That way you can hold it tight and keep stable."
Several other values that Caleb has learned have also been passed on to him because of his father's teaching.
"I've never been here before, so I think it's a great opportunity to see all the other teams in competition," Jeff said. "From the moment we arrived, we've been treated wonderfully by everyone. Daisy is outstanding. Everybody thinks it's just shooting BBs, but to me it's not just about the shooting. It teaches commitment and self-discipline. You have to be on time to practice and there's no backing out when you commit to coming to an event like this. It's more important than just hitting a bullseye."
That's one of the reasons that JR Thomas of the Brunswick Bulleyes from Lawrenceville, Va., came to the competition.
"I started when my dad (Tom) let me shoot his rifle and I got a groundhog," Thomas said. "I got into it through the 4-H to start off in BB guns. I really got interested in it and started getting better and better."
Thomas was amazed and impressed with the size of Rogers High School, like most of the Virginia parents who were in attendance at Sunday's position events encouraging their children.
"This is better than last year," Thomas said. "Just this room alone is about the size of my entire school back home. It's pretty awesome to be here."