By Chuck Cordill
Moanalua’s Chelsie Hata didn’t take up air riflery until her freshman year, but wasted no time becoming one of the top shooters in the state. Hata repeated as the OIA girls champion this month, shooting a 534 aggregate out of a possible 600. Not bad considering she got involved because there weren’t many other options.
“I can’t run that well and not too good at catching or throwing balls, so I had to choose between bowling and air riflery,” Hata said. “The last time I bowled I scored a 27, so I decided to try shooting and found out I liked it.”
Though relatively new to the sport, Hata wasn’t completely alien to marksmanship. Her grandfather was an Olympic level skeet shooter in Japan and still holds a record there — 198 out of 200, as her father Yuji recalls.
Hata’s grandfather died last March, but not before he saw his granddaughter establish herself as one of Hawaii’s top prep shooters.
Her father loves hunting deer and game birds on Molokai. Once he saw Chelsie was serious about shooting, he set up a practice area in the backyard. He also sent her to a National Rifle Association camp on Maui before her junior year. In addition, she practices with a .22 rifle every Sunday at Koko Head range.
Hata is among the favorites to place well in the upcoming Hawaii High School Athletic Association/Civilian Marksmanship Program Air Riflery Championships to be held at the Blaisdell Center Exhibition Hall on Tuesday. She was third last year.
“Chelsie is a definite contender for states and she has what it takes,”
Moanalua coach Francis Achiu said. “That’s why I named her team captain. She’s a typical kid, very friendly with her classmates, but once she looks down range and aims at her target, Chelsie’s all business. She can shut out other things, focus, and concentrate on her performance. It’s phenomenal for someone her age to have that emotional maturity.”
The ability to focus is essential in the sport, according to Achiu.
“A good shooter needs to be able to achieve what I call ‘inner peace,’ it’s almost a Zen kind of quiet state,” he said.
In what might sound like guidance from a meditation teacher, Achiu talks of practiced breathing, calming oneself, and blanking everything out for the moment.
“When they are able to reach that point, they become better shooters,” he said. “Chelsie has practiced over the years and has that ability. She doesn’t get rattled, whether it’s windy or there’s outside noise. Chelsie’s able to re-focus very quickly. That’s a big part of the reason she has done so well.”
Hata is a focused 4.0 student, but it still took time to develop the mental concentration essential in the sport. She says long practice hours helped strengthen her emotionally and harness the energy to block everything else out and focus.
“If I’ve had problems and worries during the day, I have to put them aside or they’ll affect my shooting,” Hata said. “Once I do that, I can concentrate on the process and execution of shooting. I don’t allow myself to think of the other stuff. There have been days when I struggled to do that and things just didn’t work. I shot horribly. So I’ve learned to be tougher mentally.”
The state championship will bring an added challenge. It will be only the second time the air riflery participants compete in a face-to-face environment this season. Because of economics, instead of renting buses to ferry one team to another school, “postal scoring” was used throughout the season.
Competing teams fired in the three positions — standard, kneeling and prone — on their home range, and targets were sent in to league officials for comparison and scoring.
Hata found the environment a little boring and is looking forward to again seeing her opponents at states.
“It’s a challenge, but it will actually make it seem like a match,” said Hata. “We’ve went through the whole season basically shooting against our own teammates. In a competition like the OIA or state championships, it’s a lot more to handle. But it actually makes it seem more like a match. There will be much more intensity — it will be more nerve-racking, but also more fun.”