By Ashley Brugnone, CMP Writer
CAMP PERRY, Ohio – “We got really lucky. We were just full of luck this trip.”
Joanne Sanchez beamed a smile that was filled with obvious gratitude as she looked back on her first trip to the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s (CMP) National Matches at Camp Perry with her husband Pedro (Pete) and their son Jayden, back in July.
A trip that was a dream come true for 10-year-old Jayden and his family nearly became a nightmare when everything they had planned quickly unraveled before their eyes. But, when all seemed lost, their misfortunes were patched by the compassion of strangers in the most unexpected ways.
Back in their hometown of Mission, Texas, the Sanchez family spends a lot of quality time together. Pete and Jayden stay busy playing video games like Minecraft and Roblox and also do a little woodworking on the side. But the real pastime that has brought the family closer together and has taken them on a journey they will never forget is the world of marksmanship.
Even Joanne has given shooting sports a try, firing on steel targets, and admits with a grin, “I’m actually pretty good.” They all compete against each other for fun.
“It’s something we enjoy as a family,” she said.
Pete, a dispatcher with the Mission Police Department, didn’t really become interested in the sport of shooting until Jayden showed an interest around five years old, when he saw his dad with his coworkers working on firearms techniques.
Jayden gave it a try and became immediately hooked. The interest led him to his own BB gun, firing at his toys for fun, and a few years later eventually led the family to a booth at a hunting and fishing expo where they learned more about further opportunities for Jayden.
The family came in contact with a local coach, and Jayden soon began practice with the South Texas Shooters 4-H organization. It was there that they first learned about the CMP.
“We took a look at the website and, sure enough, there was stuff for kids and youth shooters that were in 4-H,” Joanne said. “He was thrilled.”
At first, the family thought twice about making the trek to Ohio for the National Matches, with cost being a big concern and with Jayden only competing for just over a year. But after considering all of the possible opportunities there, Joanne said, “You know what – let’s do this. Let’s go to CMP.”
For the next few months, Jayden trained for the CMP event. The family also looked forward at the chance to meet Joanne’s aunt, her namesake, whom she had never met before and who lives in New Middletown near Youngstown in Ohio. Coincidentally, a Scholastic Action Shooting Program (SASP) National Championships at the Cardinal Center in Marengo, Ohio, was also taking place in July. Jayden’s team all traveled to the event, and they even dyed their hair blue for the occasion.
The trip was shaping up to be a collection of exciting firsts for the young family, but it soon became the beginning of a string of mishaps that nearly left the Sanchez family broken, both financially and emotionally.
The first setback came when the family stayed in a hotel for the SASP event that assured a shuttle, but in reality, no shuttle existed. After two, three plane rides to get to Ohio, arriving after midnight, they finally made their way to the hotel only to find their rooms weren’t ready, and Joanne’s mother, who came along for the trip, was forced to sleep on a pullout couch. They also realized they had to drive two hours to and from the Cardinal venue each day for the event.
“It was one thing after another,” Joanne said. “It was a disaster.”
The family was also unable to get a hotel room around Camp Perry for the National Matches, so they had to drive over an hour each way to get to the range.
“We finally just prayed – and everything came our way,” Joanne said. “We’re grateful that it happened – it made us stronger.”
They finally arrived at Camp Perry the night before, deciding to sit through a Rimfire Sporter class to gain more insight into the unfamiliar match before Jayden competed in the event the next day. It was the most knowledge the family had of the competition before going into it.
On match day, they arrived, checked in and went through the normal routine of getting their gun inspected for qualification. Unfortunately, they came across a few major issues.
Jayden’s Ruger .22 rifle stock and trigger had been modified for the rapid fire portion of the SASP Match. Though legal for that event, the rifle specs didn’t meet the CMP standards for competition.
“We thought it was going to be really hard for us to change that trigger,” Joanne said, not wanting to affect the other training he was doing with the rifle by tailoring it again and realizing the possible cost involved for alteration.
The family waited around for nearly four hours, trying to figure out what to do to get the gun to meet requirements. They even looked at area sporting goods stores for solutions, but found nothing.
Along the way, they met a local family – Alana, Matt and Claudia Muzik. The Muziks, who live in Green Springs, Ohio, just down the road from Camp Perry, are regulars to the CMP air range on base and to other CMP events. Matt, who is trained as a gunsmith, thought that he may be able to help out, but he was also unsuccessful.
Over the course of the day, the Sanchez Family story made its way around Camp Perry, and suddenly, everyone knew their struggle.
“Everyone had heard about us – the little boy having trouble with his gun.” Joanne said. “We walked around and people would recognize us, ‘Hey, are you that family?’”
She recalled and laughed, “Oh, these people are so nice! We’re probably the only family walking around trying to get help.”
Desperate for a solution, the family took a lap around Commercial Row, a vendor road on Camp Perry during the National Matches. So many individuals and vendors offered their services – one tried a spray and a degreaser, another warned against that, saying it could risk ruining the trigger. Then, they visited the CMP armorer trailer where they hoped to get some answers, but they were still unable to get the rifle to meet requirements.
The family began to lose hope.
But then, the staff within the CMP trailer called the headquarters office to see what could be done. Kathy Williams, who was working the front desk that day, stayed in touch with the family, assuring them they could, “make it happen.”
And, they did.
After a little scrambling and arranging, the CMP employees got together to round up a spare rifle for Jayden to use. A CMP staff member even took the rifle home to his own personal backyard range and tested its accuracy and safety.
“He went beyond,” said Joanne.
“Everybody did – everybody did,” Pete added, with tears in his eyes. “We were crying our eyes out.”
“We cried – we literally cried,” Joanne admitted. “We thanked God. We had actually prayed. We were just excited to not go home.”
“To everyone else, it might seem like nothing, but to us, coming all this way from South Texas, it meant everything,” she said. “You don’t see that very often.”
Pete was especially emotional during the ordeal. He thought back on the event, and with clear sincerity in his voice, said, “Back home, pretty much any sport that I know of, there’s always that rivalry – players on opposite teams don’t really help each other out. If someone needs help, they kind of turn a blind eye. But when we got to this sport, even back home, the families always help each other out.”
He went on, “When we came here – perfect strangers, like the Muziks. We met them at registration. We knew them for maybe 30 minutes, and this family was already willing to help us out as much as they could. He even told us, ‘Get the parts, come to my house and we’ll put it together for you so it’s ready for tomorrow.’”
“This guy had never known us before, and he was ready to open up his home for us. People off the street were trying to find something for us. We were thinking we were going to have to go and spend another hundred-some dollars to get a new trigger just so he could compete. We were trying to figure out if we had to spend that, how are we going to make it for the rest of the time we’re here, and how are we going to get back?”
“Once again, people who didn’t’ even know about us said, ‘We’re going to help you out. We’re going to get him going, and he’s going to shoot.’ And the CMP lent us a rifle,” Pete said, wiping the grateful tears away.
Finally, after all of the worry, frustration and nearly having to end their trip early without the chance to fire at the National Matches, one of their biggest motivations for making the long journey to Ohio, Jayden was going to be able shoot.
“At first, I was nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to do or if the rifle would jam or anything, but after the sighting in, I felt good about it,” Jayden said. “I started getting the hang of it.”
Once on the range, the challenges didn’t end, but neither did the support. The family didn’t have much equipment and didn’t have the means to buy more. Pete didn’t know how he was going to be able to see Jayden’s shots without a scope or binoculars. But, fate stepped in again as the family was squadded on the firing point next to talented marksman and junior instructor, SSgt Stephen Ferguson of the U.S. Marine Corps.
With all of his equipment already set up on his firing point, Ferguson was more than happy to lend the family a hand.
“He noticed we didn’t have anything, and he didn’t even hesitate – ‘Here, use this,’” Pete said. “Not many people would do that.”
Ferguson also taught Jayden how to properly hold the rifle and gave him shooting tips, like telling him to go slower with his shots.
“Ferguson didn’t hesitate to help,” Pete said. “He jumped in and said, ‘Hey, buddy! Here’s what you’ve got to do…’ And he was able to get him to where he needed to be.”
Ferguson wasn’t the only person on the line ready and willing to jump in to assist the family. Another shooter on the line also gave Jayden and Pete advice on technique, and a Range Officer who was a 4-H coach showed Jayden how to fix his stance.
“I mean that’s – it’s amazing,” Pete said again, genuinely thankful. “He has a tough job to do as it is, and he took time out of that to help. It was really awesome.”
It was all part of what made Jayden’s experience at his first National Matches unprecedented and absolutely unforgettable.
“My favorite parts were the support that people gave me, the tips, and meeting new people. And just having fun,” he said.
Also on the range during the event was Joanne’s aunt, who came all the way to Camp Perry to watch Jayden shoot.
“What better way to meet us than to come see our son compete against the nation?” Joanne said with a smile.
With their first incredible National Matches experience now imbedded into their memories, the family has already looked into more rifle events Jayden can participate in next year, and they’ve even looked at events that they can all do together as a family. They’re also going to try to bring more Texas families along with them next time.
“We’ll definitely be back,” Pete said.
“Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts,” Joanne added, speaking to everyone who aided them during the trip. “There are some nice families – very generous.”
And as for Jayden, he plans to come back with a lofty goal – winning the entire Rimfire event. With or without blue hair.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.