Pair of glasses helped sharpshooter take aim at national title
ELEANOR - Jason Black sees the world a little more clearly now.
More important, he sees targets more clearly. In fact, he sees them much more clearly - clearly enough, in fact, to arrive home from the recent National Smallbore Prone Rifle Matches as a national champion.
The 18-year-old from Huntington dominated the Junior Sharpshooter division. His four-day aggregate score of 4,737 outdistanced his nearest rival by 10 points.
"That's a heck of a margin," said Black's coach, Bill Shank. "Usually these competitions are decided by one or two points, or even [tiebreakers based on the number of center shots]."
Just one year earlier, Black was a non-factor at the National Matches. Then he got glasses.
"It turned out I had terrible astigmatism in both eyes," Black explained. "As soon as I got glasses, the targets cleared up immediately."
His practice scores skyrocketed.
"Up to then, Jason had been making slow but steady progress," Shank said. "When he came out with glasses his scores went up sharply and have stayed at that peak for nearly a year."
With corrective eyewear, Black found himself hitting the bull's-eye with the sort of consistency he'd dreamed of since he joined the Putnam County Youth Smallbore Club four years before.
"He was 14 when he joined the club," recalled Rodney Black, Jason's dad. "We were at the  West Virginia Hunting and Fishing show and walked by the club's booth. Jason saw all those nice rifles and said he'd like to try that."
Jason joined the club in April of that year and, like all newcomers, learned the fundamentals with his rifle propped on sandbags.
"It didn't take me long to get off the sandbags, though," he said. "By the middle of the summer I was shooting without them."
In 2010, Black shot at the National Matches for the first time and earned a Marksman rating from the National Rifle Association. He returned to Camp Perry, Ohio, for the 2011 matches and upgraded his rating to Sharpshooter.
Shortly after the 2011 competition, Black had his eyes examined and discovered his astigmatism problem. With glasses he practiced better and, when given the chance, competed better.
At the 2011 West Virginia Junior Olympics, he earned a silver medal in the three-position smallbore event and a bronze medal in air rifle. That small taste of success whetted his appetite for something bigger.
In early August, at the 2012 National Matches, he enjoyed a feast.
He won four single-day Junior Sharpshooter events - the Dewar Metallic Sights Match, where he registered a perfect 400 score; the Dewar Any Sights Match, where he shot a 399; the 100-yard Any Sights Match, where he fired a 397; and the High Aggregate match for the competition's third day, where he scored 1,191 points of 1,200 possible.
He also won the Junior Sharpshooter-class Prone Any Sights championship with an aggregate score of 2,372 of a possible 2,400; the Prone Metallic Sights championship with 2,365 of 2,400 possible; and the National Prone Junior Sharpshooter championship with 4,737 of 4,800 possible.
After he returned home, Black got yet another trophy - a small whisk broom.
"Anytime a shooter from the club shoots a perfect score in a match, which we call 'cleaning' it, he gets a broom," Black explained. "This year in the Dewar Match, I had a 400."
In the process of dominating the Junior Sharpshooter competition, Black gained the NRA's Expert rating.
"Shooting in the Expert division [next year] will definitely make things more challenging," he said with a grin.
Shank said Black's championship is a first for the Putnam County club.
"We've had people win individual matches at the nationals," Shank said. "Dana Reese, Scott Cavender, Scott Thomas and Catherine Kauffelt have all accomplished that, and Catherine has finished as the High Woman and High Collegian. But Jason is our first-ever division champion."
Black hopes one day to take his skills to an elite level.
"I'd like to shoot in the Olympics, or maybe shoot for the Army Marksmanship Unit team," he said. "I'd love to advance beyond what I've done so far and somehow make a career out of shooting."
That might just happen. After all, he can see the targets now.
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or email@example.com.