Shooting has been a huge part of Donnie Smith’s life since his parents gave him his first .22 rifle when he was just 8 years of age.
Now 13 and a student at Rim Country Middle School, Donnie has turned his passion for competitive shooting into what he hopes will eventually yield a university scholarship offer.
“Texas Christian, Utah, North Carolina and Ohio State all have small bore shooting teams,” he said. “I’d like to go to one of those.”
The path to a scholarship is undoubtedly a challenging one, but Donnie is off to a rip-roaring start as evidenced by his participation on the Arizona Junior High Power Rifle Team that won the prestigious Minute Man Trophy as top junior team at the 2011 National Rifle matches held last month at Camp Perry, Ohio.
In the battle for the Infantry Trophy, the Arizona team, coached by Tom Kirby, finished second.
In addition to being a member of the eight-man Arizona team, Donnie picked up at Camp Perry valuable individual points toward eventually receiving his Distinguished Rifleman’s Badge.
At the National Rifle matches, Donnie and his teammates fired open sight AR-15 rifles at targets 200, 300 and 600 yards away.
An AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle that once was adopted by the United States armed forces as the M16.
The AR-15, or civilian model, is a 5.56 mm, air-cooled, gas operated rifle that has captured the affection of sport shooters and police forces around the country.
During his week-long stay at Camp Perry, which was the second time he attended rifle matches there, Donnie and his teammates arrived at the shooting range at 7 a.m. and practiced until late afternoon.
“Long days, but fun,” Donnie said.
Camp Perry boasts the largest outdoor rifle range in the world and firing is done in the direction of the open water of Lake Erie
While there, the team members lived in military-like Quonset huts that also serve as residences for Ohio National Guard members when they are training at the camp.
In traveling to Camp Perry, the Arizona team received financial support from the Friends of NRA, Rio Salado Sportsman Club and the Arizona Rifle and Pistol Association.
In Payson, the Marine Corps League Detachment contributed funds to help Donnie travel to Ohio.
Upon the teenager’s return, he asked to attend a Marine Corps League Saturday meeting to thank them for their support.
League member Bill Sahno, Col. USMC, ret., was among those impressed with Donnie.
“I believe this young man is on the right track in life and a great example to others,” Sahno said. “Obviously, he has a talent and is using it to benefit himself, his family and community.”
While Donnie now competes mostly with a high-powered rifle, it was his first .22 that sparked his interest in competitive shooting.
Upon receiving the rifle as a Christmas gift, he began practicing at the Tonto Rim Sports Club Jim Jones Shooting Range where longtime TRSC member and avid shooter Charlie Thompson took notice.
“You could tell he was going to be a good one,” said Thompson.
Eventually Donnie took up high-powered rifle shooting and began traveling to Rio Salado Sportsman Club in Mesa for matches.
In February 2010, he competed in the 118th Washington’s Birthday Match at Ben Avery Shooting Range and finished 82nd out of 184 shooters.
Later he shined at the Southwest Nationals-Berg Match at Ben Avery and the Matt Acker Memorial Arizona Junior High Power Match also at Avery.
In July and August 2010 he made his first trip to Camp Perry where he participated in the Civilian Marksmanship Program at the Rifle Small Arms Firing School.
In late August, he was a high power match winner at the Second Annual John Ksenzulak Memorial held at Prescott Sports Club.
Just one month later he placed first in the iron and open sights division and was an overall winner at the Silhouette Shooting Competition held over the course of two days at Tonto Rim Sports Club.
Last February, Donnie made his second appearance at the Washington Birthday Match finishing 15th in a field of 184 shooters. He was also the second high shooter on the Arizona Junior High Powered Team.
In June 2011 he traveled to Raton, N.M. where he placed fourth overall in the NRA High Power Regional Championships.
In addition to the competitions Donnie has entered, he has also earned several NRA marksmanship honors including being named a Marksman First Class, Sharpshooter and Expert in four positions.
Donnie is the son of Don and Silvia Smith of Payson.