Brandy Barnes, 4-H'er
Hinds County 4-H’er learns patience, persistence through rifle competition
When a heart condition kept Brandy Barnes from playing basketball, she ramped up her dedication to 4-H shooting sports.
Her condition affects heart rhythms and is treated with medication and lifestyle practices, such as getting proper rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding chocolate and caffeine. Brandy follows her doctor’s orders and is a typical teenager.
“When I found out that I wouldn’t be able to play basketball, I decided to focus on getting better at shooting,” Brandy explains.
The 17-year-old was already a member of Hinds County 4-H, the Mississippi State University Extension Service youth development organization. She joined because she wanted to learn to shoot.
“I can’t really explain where my interest came from, but I was curious about it,” says Brandy, who participates in the .22- caliber rifle division. “I really enjoy it. It’s challenging, and I’ve come so far in the four years that I’ve been involved. That encourages me to stay with it.”
Her commitment to the sport earned her a trip to the National 4-H Shooting Sports Championship in Nebraska over the summer, but her learning curve was pretty steep.
“Brandy showed up to her first practice four years ago with a brand new rifle—still in the box,” says Mike McArthur, who is a certified 4-H shooting sports instructor for Hinds County 4-H. “She started from the beginning. She had never fired a rifle before that first practice. She stuck with it and didn’t get discouraged.”
In competitive shooting, individuals must focus on the fundamentals to excel. And the first fundamental all shooting sports members learn is firearm safety and the rules of the range.
“Everyone is required to take a safety course first,” Brandy says. “They teach us how to handle our firearms safely and correctly. We learn everything about the gun and what to do and what not to do at the firing range. Mr. Mike makes sure that safety is maintained at all times. At each practice, he reminds us of range safety, and he watches to make sure all of the rules are followed.”
Then, team members learn the proper stance and how to control the trigger and their breathing while they develop other skills that also help them with accuracy.
“From there it’s just practice—and lots of it,” McArthur explains. “Brandy is very focused. She attends practice regularly, and she pays attention to detail.” Gerald Branson, who Brandy says she thinks of as a coach and father, is a steady, calm presence behind her shooting mat during practice every Monday afternoon. Occasionally, he lifts his miniature binoculars to study Brandy’s shot placement in the target.
“He helps me not only during regular practices, but when I’m practicing on my own,” Brandy says of Branson, who is a 37-year member of the National Guard and former hunter. “He critiques my shooting—in a good way—and helps me with my breathing, aiming, adjusting my sites, and proper firearm etiquette.”
Donna Barnes watches her daughter from the sideline, just a few feet behind Gerald and Brandy.
“He helps her with practice,” Donna says. “He watches as she shoots and goes out to look at the target with her. I can’t do that. It makes us both too nervous because I want her always to do well. When the target is good, she gives me a smile or a thumbs up.
“Gerald tells her to have fun,” Donna continues. “He wants her to concentrate and do her best, but he emphasizes that having fun is important, too. I’m the serious one during practice and competition. I really want her to do well because I know her ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympics. My role is to keep her encouraged and focused on the prize. At the end of the day, there will always be a hug and kiss no matter the outcome.”
Brandy has excelled as a competitive shooter since Branson, a friend of the Barnes family, began helping her with her shooting three years ago.
“Her technique and ability has improved dramatically,” he says. “It’s still improving. She is willing to learn, and she listens. That is what helps her the most.”
4-H provides Brandy with more than just shooting skills. Her team members elected her president of the shooting sports club this year.
“4-H has helped me grow as a person,” Brandy says. “I considered myself a shy person before being elected. But this responsibility has helped me learn to make decisions and work as part of a group. I feel very welcome in this club. Everyone is accepting, and we all encourage each other to do our best.”
Hinds County Extension Agent Lurlinda Soignier says she has seen Brandy evolve from a shy young lady into a prepared leader.
“Brandy serves as greeter and mentor for our shooting sports club,” Soignier says. “She is tremendously focused and serves as an example for other team members. Her sweet disposition is warm and welcoming, but she is a fierce competitor once called to the firing line.
“I love her dedication to her sport and the support she has from her family and coaches. Youth who are self-motivated and goal-driven, like Brandy, will be successful in their future, and it makes me proud to know that 4-H has played a role in that.”