South Charlotte Weekly
Ardrey Kell student with disability helps lead team to national tournament
When 18-year-old Aaron Irving holds a rifle and focuses on his target, all his other challenges seem to fade away.
Aaron is a member of Ardrey Kell High School’s JROTC rifle team, which competes in three-position air rifle competitions. He also is the only shooter on the team who has a disability.
Aaron’s mother, Cindy Irving, said he was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. Aaron was treated with a medication that gave him the side effect of involuntary movements, also known as tics, which have affected him since elementary school. The tics are mostly uncontrollable, unless he has a rifle in his hands.
“A calmness and focus comes over him when he shoots,” said Lt. Col. Robert Wint, Ardrey Kell’s senior Marine instructor and JROTC rifle coach.
Wint has coached Aaron for three years and said he’s seen Aaron grow to become one of his top shooters. The Ardrey Kell rifle team made it to nationals this year for the first time in school history, and Aaron ranks No. 45 out of 670 JROTC rifle team shooters in the Southeast and No. 95 out of 1,566 shooters in the nation.
Aaron also will compete in the Junior Olympics with a team from Charlotte Rifle and Pistol Club in June.
Aaron said his interest in shooting started when he was 14 years old and he began playing “Call of Duty” – an interactive war video game played through the eyes and scope of a soldier. When he started attending Ardrey Kell, he noticed JROTC had a rifle team and he made it his mission to become part of the team.
“He practiced all the time at home with his air soft gun and target,” Cindy Irving said.
Aaron tried out and made the team his sophomore year.
“When he first asked to try out for the team, I was reluctant, but we noticed he had talent right away,” said Wint. “He also has built his confidence and it shows in his actions around school.”
Wint also said Aaron has befriended other students with disabilities and became a role model and leader through supporting them around campus.
His accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed; Aaron was one of 10 seniors who received a leadership award from the principal at Ardrey Kell, called “Ardrey Kell Principal’s Award.”
“Aaron has a positive, ‘can do’ attitude,” said Principal David Switzer. “He is respectful of others, and he always wants to be a better person.”
Switzer felt rifle team helped Aaron build leadership skills through teamwork and goal attainment, which, in turn, built his confidence, and Aaron transformed others through his growth.
“Aaron is a leader in his classes by encouraging others to focus on learning and getting them to become involved in school activities,” Switzer said. “In addition, he supports students with positive words about them on a consistent basis.”
Cindy Irving feels shooting is Aaron’s “God-given talent” and, while she is excited about all that he has accomplished, she also is sad to see it come to an end. Once the Junior Olympics are over, Aaron will not have anywhere else to practice or compete.
“There isn’t a facility available where anyone, including Aaron, can practice or prepare for the Olympics,” Cindy Irving said.
She also said Aaron has an interest in working as an apprentice to a gunsmith and teaching other children with disabilities how to shoot an air rifle.
“I don’t want to see his talent go to waste,” she said.
Aaron’s mother aspires to work with local rifle coaches to help fulfill her son’s dream and keep the Olympic dream alive for other talented shooters in the greater Charlotte area.
Aaron isn’t thrilled about giving up his rifle either; it’s become an important part of his life. When asked why he is so calm when he shoots, Aaron shrugged it off and said, “It’s just who I am, it’s my everyday; it’s what I enjoy.”
Please contact Cindy Irving, if you are interested in supporting her efforts to build a new rifle facility by firstname.lastname@example.org.