written by sabrina forse tatsch | photos provided by luis ramirez & provided by willhite family, us shooting, cmp (civilian marksmanship program)
“I love that it’s an individual sport meaning that if you succeed, it’s because you prepared and executed well or if you struggle, it’s because of something you did. There is no one else to blame. It’s about self-discipline and you have to challenge yourself.”– Brooke Willhite
Cash competes in multiple events. His favorite is Precision Air Rifle where shooters stand and focus on a target ten meters away. “I like the standing one best because I can focus on just one position,” said Cash. He also competes in the Three Position Air Rifle event where competitors fire twenty shots from each of the following positions: kneeling, prone (laying down) and standing. Then he uses a 22-rifle in the Three Position Smallbore, known as either the 3X20 or 3X40. The competitor shoots either twenty or forty shots from each position at fifty meters or fifty feet depending on the match. Brooke mainly competes in the Three Position Smallbore, Three Position Air Rifle, Precision Air Rifle and National Rifle Association (NRA) Prone. “My favorite is the Three Position Smallbore because I feel like it’s the most challenging. It’s really a test in endurance. Matches can last up to three hours and you have to focus on all three positions instead of just one,” said Brooke.
Cash sets his sights on his mark while competing in the Junior Olympics
Both Willhite siblings are competing at the national level. This past spring, they both qualified to compete at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championship at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Cash was just ten years old and the youngest athlete in the competition, but that didn’t stop him from earning the bronze medal for Precision Air Rifle J3. J3 means junior shooters who are 14 years old or younger. “It was exciting because I didn’t feel like it was one of my best days. It showed me what was possible and what you can achieve with hard work. Next, I would like to qualify for both the air rifle and the smallbore events,” said Cash.
Brooke thinks about her next shot while competing in the Junior Olympics
2018 was the first year that Brooke qualified, and she already has her sights on qualifying again. “My scores qualified me in air rifle and smallbore. The year before, I was just two points below in both disciplines, so I was excited to compete at the Olympic Training Center. It was amazing to see how people at that level prepare and handle themselves. You may not speak to someone, but you can watch them and learn a lot that way. It was fun to compete alongside them and realize they are just normal people who were once at the same place I am. It makes you realize what you can achieve,” said Brooke.
“Brooke has been a trailblazer in our organization. She has been the one to step out and set a precedent for the younger kids in our club.” - Kevin Willhite
In 2018, Brooke won first place in the Sharp Shooter division at the Texas State Rifle Association Smallbore Prone Championship. At the NRA National Championship in Indiana, Brooke was a member of the Texas State Rifle Association Junior Team that was crowned the Junior National Champions in Any Sights Conventional 3 Position Smallbore, won a team silver medal in Any Sights, and a team bronze medal in Iron Sights Open Division.
Years before she competed on the national stage, Brooke was just a young girl who enjoyed hunting with her father. “I really enjoyed hunting and then when I was eleven, we learned about the 4-H rifle program. I had already been showing livestock with 4-H but this was something new. My dad started the local 4-H Rifle & Pistol Club and started coaching us. The first year, it was just me and four boys but by the end of the season, I was the only one who wanted to continue,” explained Brooke.
It’s that passion that helped advance youth shooting opportunities in the area. “Brooke has been a trailblazer in our organization. She has been the one to step out and set a precedent for the younger kids in our club,” said Kevin Willhite, Brooke and Cash’s father. “We both learned together and tried different things. I’ve been able to use what I learned coaching her to coach Cash and other kids.”
In addition to being dad and coach, Kevin is the president of Permian Basin Young Guns. It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to shooting education for youth and women. “We saw a need for a bigger and broader program for youth and women in our area so in September 2016, we purchased eighteen acres next to a public range in Midland,” said Kevin. There, the Permian Basin Young Guns have a meeting area, an indoor BB gun and air rifle range and an outdoor rifle range where they can host not only educational courses but club and 4-H competitions. “There is a three-member board that oversees our organization and we rely on volunteers to help coach and make the program work. The number one thing we want to do is educate. We are truly educating not only kids but families, as well. We want to teach them about proper marksmanship and gun safety. Our focus is teaching safety that kids can carry into adulthood, whether it’s hunting or gun safety.” Permian Basin Young Guns teaches multiple classes, including hunter education, youth bb-gun, air rifle and women’s pistol. “You don’t have to sign up long term,” said Kevin. “We have a five-week course you can take. You can stop there or if you like it, take another class and maybe you’ll end up at the Junior Olympics too.”
Kevin and Cash Willhite, Permian Basin Young Guns
For those wanting to reach the Junior Olympics, self-discipline is a prerequisite. “It’s a precision sport so everything has to be right. You have to work really hard to try and get good at it,” said Cash who typically practices two to three hours up to six days a week when preparing for a big match.
Brooke typically practices three mornings per week before school and four to five days per week after school. “When there is a big match, we’ll ramp it up even more,” said Brooke. “I love that it’s an individual sport meaning that if you succeed, it’s because you prepared and executed well or if you struggle, it’s because of something you did. There is no one else to blame. It’s about self-discipline and you have to challenge yourself.” While it’s an individual sport, the siblings do rely on each other. “It really does go both ways. We identify with each other. If something isn’t working right, I can ask Cash his thoughts. I’m really proud of the work he puts in and I think he’s going to have a really successful career if he sticks with it.”
“The number one thing we want to do is educate. We are truly educating not only kids but families, as well. Our focus is teaching safety that kids can carry into adulthood, whether it’s hunting or gun safety.” - Kevin
The Willhite’s travel the county to compete and qualify in a number of matches, such as the USA Shooting Rifle National Championship in Fort Benning, Georgia where both siblings earned gold medals. Cash placed first in J3 50 meter prone and Brooke placed first in C-Class Women’s 50-meter three position, 3X40. “The rule was changed recently so now men and women all compete in the 3X40. I think it’s great that young women like me can participate in a sport where gender doesn’t limit what you can do,” said Brooke. “I also like that you don’t have to be a certain body type. There are women like Gold Medal Olympian Ginny Thrasher, who isn’t much taller than me, and I’m just five foot. Then there’s Mindy Miles who is another world class competitor, yet a completely different build. It’s been really inspiring to meet such phenomenal shooters and compete with women who are so successful.”
Another successful woman is the one raising these two young athletes. Brooke and Cash call her mom, but Kevin calls his wife Janae Willhite an unsung hero. “My role is support staff. I get everyone where they need to be and make sure they have everything they need,” said Janae. “You don’t travel light when you have rifles, equipment and luggage.” Janae has managed to make traveling across the country from match to match a fun experience. “She turns it into a family vacation and we make stops along the way,” said Cash. “Nothing bonds a family like seeing the world’s largest covered wagon,” joked Brooke, in reference to a stop the family made in Illinois while en route to the NRA Championship.
Cash Willhite wins the bronze at the Junior Olympics Cash was just ten years old and the youngest athlete in the competition, but that didn’t stop him from earning the bronze medal for Precision Air Rifle J3.
Brooke and Cash are building upon milestones they once didn’t even think possible. “At one point it was just a dream of ours to even compete in a national match. Now that they are doing it and winning some hardware, it’s really exciting,” said Kevin. “The most important thing is preparation. I want them to develop the skills and confidence to walk into a national level match and feel prepared. They need to be able to go through the process on their own with very little input from me. I want to develop all our athletes with Permian Basin Young Guns to be independent. I always tell them to act like a champion and you’ll become a champion.” These young champions are setting goals on and off the range. Cash aspires to qualify for international competition. Brooke plans to pursue her shooting sports options in college, but academically she plans to earn degrees in both mechanical and biomedical engineering. “Both Cash and Brooke are disciplined and have a good work ethic,” said Kevin. “I hope that whatever they pursue in life, they will continue to be good ambassadors for youth shooting sports and as adults become involved in teaching and give back to their community.” †