The Three Amigos

“The Three Amigos: Excellence Without Ego”
What does it take to become a National Champion? Is it possible to reach that level without showing egotism? What was the unusual path three Arizona teen-agers traveled to acceptance at three top tier universities? Competition can develop character, but it can also reveal it.

Three young Arizonans, Joey Kendrick of Gilbert, Alexandria Provine and Tyler Rico of Tucson competed successfully throughout the nation as the top members of the Arizona Junior Rifle team. As ambassadors for Arizona’s Junior Shooting Team, they successfully raised the bar for performance over the last two years. The three spent countless hours practicing, training, and traveling together to competitions. But after their 2012 graduations from Gilbert High School, Canyon Del Oro High School (Tucson), and Flowing Wells High School (Tucson), the ‘Three Amigos’ set a new record in their departures for college. Joey left Gilbert for Maryland, Alex headed for New York, and Tyler crossed the border into Colorado.

What is the significance of these locations? Annapolis, Maryland has been the home of the Naval Academy for over one hundred and fifty years; West Point, New York became the home of the U.S. Military Academy under President Thomas Jefferson in 1802; and Colorado Springs, Colorado was selected as the home of the Air Force Academy in 1954. Arizona’s Three Amigos have set a record off the range that will undoubtedly be a hard target to match. Extensive research regarding their feat has been done by their coach, Tom Kirby, and other national shooting sports groups. This research has not uncovered an example of any three members of a competing team being selected for appointments to each of the nation’s military academies in one year.

Joey, Alex, and Tyler joined the rifle teams for each academy and will face each other in NCAA events. It is very likely that one or more of them will be participating in training for the United States Olympic Team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Let us look at each member of this amazing unit.

Even though Joey began shooting under his father’s guidance when he was five years old, he was the last of the three to join the Junior Shooter’s program. Within days of joining, the high school junior was selected as a firing member of the six-person Arizona team going to the National Championship match in Perry, Ohio in 2011. That team won the Minuteman Trophy awarded to the National Champion Junior Team. Joey was also a member of the six-person team that won the silver medal at the National Rifle Matches that year.

Organization and focus also helped Joey in his academic efforts during the last two years of high school. He was Corps Commander of his USAF JROTC unit and led their drill team to three national championships. He was a member of the National Honor Society and maintained at 4.0 GPA while taking Advanced Placement Honor’s classes. Joey also received an appointment to the Air Force Academy. However, he chose to round out the Three Amigos’ academy sweep by accepting the appointment offered by the US Naval Academy instead. Not wanting to wait until he reached Annapolis to practice with a small-bore rifle, Joey began practicing immediately with a borrowed rifle. Perhaps it was because he knew he may be facing two very familiar competitors in NCAA competitions.

Alex began shooting with the Junior Shooters program when she was a sixteen – year old sophomore. To make up for this late start, Alex designed a rigorous practice schedule. She practiced four days a week before school and two days a week after school. During the summer, she spent four to six hours a day shooting at least four days a week. The intensive commitment to practice paid off. Alex became an Arizona State Champion in the Junior Olympic qualifier matches. When she attended her first National Rifle Matches in 2010 as a firing team member, she returned home with an Expert ranking, bypassing the two lower rankings. She credits some of her rapid success to an unexpected source. Many would classify shooting prowess as a left-brain activity. As an accomplished painter, Alex disagrees. She sees intense focus and quick thinking as a part of both her artistic skills and competitive shooting. “They are very similar in terms of the mental approach. Fine art taught me to use these skills to improve my focus when competing.”

This tenacious and organized young woman is also a superior student. At Canyon del Oro High School, she was a member of the National Honor Society and had 4.0 GPA with Advanced Placement Honor’s classes. She is tentatively planning on studying chemical engineering as a West Point Cadet.

Alex and Tyler Rico were travel partners, coming up from Tucson to Phoenix almost every weekend to practice. Tyler was the veteran competitive shooter of the trio. He began shooting with the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association’s Junior High Power Rifle Team as a ten-year old. At 13, he became the youngest person to earn the Distinguished Rifleman badge. That year he also placed second in the President’s Hundred match at the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s National Rifle match. Second place? In that match he outscored all other Junior competitors and every one of the US Army Marksmanship Unit team. He set several national records before his fourteenth birthday. With the support of Rio Salado’s junior shooting program, he began shooting small-bore rifles and air rifles. Within just two years, he became the nation’s top-ranked junior rifle competitor. At the ripe old age of 17, he won the gold medal at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championship and a spot on the National Junior Team.

Did Tyler spend all his time practicing? No, he managed to squeeze in a black belt in karate and completion of his Eagle Scout badge, making needed improvements such as painting ramadas, building a water tank for wildlife, rebuilding a structure and planting trees and shrubs at the Pima Pistol Club. He was a member of Flowing Wells High School’s 2012 Team National Champion Army JROTC unit and graduated with a 4.0 GPA in the school’s Advanced Placement Honors Program.

Without question, all three are outstanding shooters and students whose abilities and hard work earned them a place in the freshman classes of our nation’s military academies. But how do they rank in representing the Golden Rule? Remember, competition in any area can build character or reveal it. We’ve all seen competitors—in athletics or other areas–whose behavior and attitudes reflect disrespect for their teammates and opponents. We have heard losses blamed on poor calls by referees, mistakes made by coaches, fouls committed by unfair opponents, bad weather, or countless other excuses. We’ve seen inflated egos and poor behavior justified by ‘being the best.’ Competition can most definitely reveal character. What has competition revealed about the character of our Three Amigos?

Tom Kirby, the director of the Junior Division of the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, has spent years coaching Joey, Alex, and Tyler and watching them interact with other competitors and younger team members.

“They’re committed and have great determination,” Kirby says. “But they are also the ones who go out of their way to be very supportive to others at all levels. They volunteer to do anything to help bring others up the ladder. These three are patient in any situation. Things that would cause frustration for most people roll off their backs.” When asked about ego or temperament issues, Kirby responded firmly. “They have high expectations of themselves, but there’s just no ego. For example–Tyler never mentions his records, some of which may never be broken. It’s just not something he talks about. Competitors often have no idea who he is until his name is called. And when things go wrong, there are no excuses, no blame. They are mature and mentally organized. That’s how they have time to manage everything they do. These three are determined to be future leaders.”

Joey Kendrick’s humorous statement, “You can absolutely earn a college degree shooting a rifle.” is obviously true. There are twenty-one NCAA schools offering opportunities for students with shooting skills. But shooting skills played only a small part in the appointments of Joey, Alex, and Tyler to our nation’s military academies.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the opportunity we were provided in Arizona’s junior rifle programs,” Joey said. “All three of us…me, Tyler and Alex, the ‘Three Amigos’…are fortunate to have been at the right place at the right time, with the right people supporting us to achieve our dreams.”

Joey modestly gives the credit to others and downplays the trio’s achievement. Selection requirements for the Naval Academy, West Point, and the Air Force Academy are extremely complex and demanding. Completing the process, ending in an appointment by a member of Congress, typically takes almost two years. The three areas of examination are: leadership qualities, academic performance in rigorous classes, and athletic ability. Less than 1,200 students are admitted each year to each of the academies. According to statistics from the academies’ admissions, approximately 11% of applicants to West Point and the Air Force Academy make the cut. For admission to the Naval Academy, that number drops to 7%. West Point Cadets are held to the Honor Code: “I will not lie, cheat, or steal. Nor will I tolerate others who do so.” After four years, graduates of all three academies are to fulfill their commitment to a minimum of five years of military service.

The three academies will invest a total of almost one and a quarter million dollars in educating Joey Kendrick, Alex Provine, and Tyler Rico. Arizona can be proud and confident that the Golden Three Amigos are a sound investment.
(Sources: Tom Kirby, Arizona’s Junior Shooting Team coach; websites for West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy)

  1. What are the common characteristics the military academies look for in students applying for admission?
  2. Put yourself in the role of a High School guidance counselor. A sophomore student who is very interested in applying for admission to one of the military academies has come to you for advice. Put together a list of ten classes you would encourage them to take over the next two years. What other activities would you suggest they actively participate in both in school and outside the school day?
  3. Even though Joey, Alex, and Tyler are very organized and manage time well, they must have had to give up or limit some things in order to accomplish their goals. List 3 things they may have cut back on doing during their last two years in high school. Then analyze the positive and negative aspects of their choices.
    Reduce time for: Positive because: Negative because:
  4. Most people with a record of championships like Tyler’s would want people to know about those successes. Why do you suppose he doesn’t mention his records?
  5. How might the friendship bond of Joey, Alex, and Tyler give them an advantage in adapting to the challenges facing them as students of the military academies?