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Shooting for Perfection: River Parishes team takes first in national air rifle competition

LAPLACE — For most people, Louisiana 4-H conjures mental images livestock and agriculture. Fewer know that it also involves meticulously loading rifles and shooting for the gold at national competitions.

Austin Martin and Calvin and Yumi Domangue of St. James Parish were on the team that earned first place for Louisiana in the air rifle division of the 2019 national 4-H shooting sports competition this summer in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Their superior performances in the silhouette shooting contributed not only to first in the air rifle division, but also to Louisiana’s overall placement, according to coach Jessica Chauvin Domangue.

After the four-minute process of cleaning and loading her rifle, Yumi sends her shot flying towards its target.

“Louisiana as a state placed first at nationals,” Jessica said. “This is the first time Louisiana has ever won nationals. Missouri and Texas always win. Missouri didn’t even dust the trophy off this year because they were expecting it right back.”

Louisiana took top 4 placements in just about every discipline except small-bore pistol, according to Jessica. The state had never produced an air rifle team that placed in the top 5 until this year, when the St. James Parish trio set a new precedence for success.

“They’ve probably trained for this for about three years,” Jessica said. “They’ve gone to nationals for other events, but they spent years to get to this point. They wanted to go, and they wanted to win it. They’ve put in hundreds of hours of practice.”

Jessica and her husband Lee Domangue got into coaching when their oldest child, Calvin, joined the 4-H Shooting Team through his school in sixth grade. When Calvin started BB gun shooting practice (the precursor to all shooting disciplines for 9-14 year olds), Lee noticed the team was in a bit of disarray.

Coach Lee Domangue, right, assists Austin Martin, left with the complicated task of safely dislodging a misfired shot.

As a Marine with combat experience from Desert Storm, Lee values discipline. He stepped in as a volunteer parent coach as never looked back.

Year-round practices set the stage for regional, state and national competitions, according to Lee. The goal is to build a team of four – three shooters and an alternate – to compete in a particular event in nationals. More than 1,000 teenagers from across the United States compete in different disciplines, including compound archery, recurve bow archery, air rifle, air pistol, .22 rifle, .22 pistol, shotgun, muzzle loading, and hunting skills. Once a competitor goes to nationals in one discipline, they can no longer advance to nationals in the same event.

It encourages young people to expand their capabilities and challenge themselves to learn new disciplines.

“Shooting sports is actually the largest and fastest growing program under 4-H in the entire United States,” Lee said. “I think the system we have in Louisiana works out better than in other states. Therefore, we put out some really good shooters in all different disciplines here.”

Now a collegiate freshman at LA Tech studying cyber-engineering, Calvin recently aged out of the 4-H program, but he intends to continue shooting competitively. His sister, Yumi, is a junior at Lutcher High School who also runs track and dreams of studying animation in college, preferably at a school with a shooting team.

She has shot competitively in 4-H since she was in fifth grade.

Yumi Domangue, left, gauges the accuracy of her shot so she can adjust her aim and powder load for her next shot under the guidance of Coach Jessica Chauvin Domangue.

Her involvement in the sport inspired former classmate Austin Martin to join 4-H in sixth grade. Martin is now a junior at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace, where he is a member of the track team and the ACT 30+ club. He plans to study engineering in college, following the footsteps of older brother Adam Martin, an LSU student who went to 4-H nationals in 2018.

Austin placed third overall in air rifle this year. His parents, Troy and Melissa Martin, have enjoyed being part of his journey.

“I’m thankful for the shooting team,” Melissa said. “Not every kid is a star football or baseball player, and this gives kids another outlet to be competitive. They have to learn gun safety, and as a family, we have very much enjoyed the practices, the competition the camaraderie and the friends we’ve made through shooting sports.”

Coach Jessica said Yumi and Austin practiced air rifle four-to-five days a week leading up to nationals.

“Yumi and Austin are very similar,” Jessica said. “They are quiet, methodical shooters.”

They are both talented at shooting silhouettes, and Jessica said Austin is particularly talented in standing shots.

Calvin is more emotional, a natural coach who falls into the role of team leader and competes more for other people than himself. All enjoy the social aspect, according to Jessica.

“At the competitions, once they shoot, it’s no longer about who beat who or what they shot,” Jessica said. “It’s a chance for them to visit people from around the state and get to hang out.”