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Guns and youth.

It's a combination that immediately causes some to recoil in horror.

They label the mix as toxic, only capable of producing devastation and sorrow.

But guns don't have to be tools of death and destruction.

In fact, when utilized responsibly, they can provide many benefits, including academic opportunities and self-improvement.

Take the excellent marksmen of the Seitzland Junior Rifle Team, based out of the Seitzland Rifle Club in New Freedom, for example.

They're using firearms as a means to chase dreams and open doors.

"The kids know that guns don't kill people, people do that," said Jeff Lloyd, the team's head coach. "If weapons are handled properly, they can be used for great things and provide a lot of pleasure."

Five team members recently qualified for the USA Shooting National Junior Olympics, to be held April 18 through May 6 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

They had to first qualify at the state level, needing scores that would place them high enough nationally to earn an invite to Colorado. Only 500 youth receive that invitation each year.

Qualifying to compete in both the air rifle and smallbore divisions was 17-year-old Caleb Lloyd.

Lloyd, a home-schooled student residing in Southern York School District, earned his trip west by winning gold in the J1 men's smallbore division and bronze in the overall men's air rifle event at the Pennsylvania State Junior Olympics, held recently in Hollsopple.

For many participants, such as Caleb Lloyd, competitive shooting can provide a way to continue their education.

Although offered in small numbers across the nation, competitive shooting is an NCAA sport, giving some of the nation's best marksmen a chance to earn a scholarship.

Caleb Lloyd certainly has made the most of his skills, earning a scholarship to compete on the NCAA Division I rifle team at the University of Akron starting this fall. He plans to turn his rifle into a mechanical engineering degree.

"Our program is based on getting these kids to college," Jeff Lloyd said. "We try to show them these are avenues that are absolute possibilities for you, and they get excited about it and they do it."

Equally important is the opportunity for self-improvement that the sport provides. Participants start out learning a healthy respect for, and proper treatment of, firearms. They also gain a lot other benefits that often come with competitive sport.

"I definitely say I have a lot more self-discipline because of it, knowing that working hard gets you a lot of benefits," Caleb Lloyd said.

"You're competing against yourself and you have to continually challenge yourself to be better and better. And that carries over into life," Jeff Lloyd said. "Hard work, focus, determination pays off, that's the biggest life lesson they get out of this."

The National Junior Olympics is the development program for USA Shooting. It is intended to promote shooting sports, allow skilled junior athletes national competitive opportunities and to appoint the top finishers to the National Junior Team. Caleb Lloyd isn't quite sure yet if the Olympic path is one he'd like to pursue. He definitely feels it's not an unreasonable one, though.

Also headed west from the Seitzland team for the National Junior Olympics in both air rifle and smallbore is Wyatt Openshaw. Tony Jackson, Cierra Terrizzi and Ian Coyne will also compete in air rifle.

For every negative story that involves the irresponsible use of firearms for reprehensible acts, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of untold stories of those who are responsible.

With a national landscape littered with such negativity, it's nice to have a local story like this — one that highlights a responsible attitude and respect for firearms.

It's an attitude held by many whose stories never see the light of day.

— Reach Elijah Armold at earmold@yorkdispatch.com; @EADispatch on Twitter.

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