Michelle Perez hoped at least a few students would attend a recent organizational meeting at Circle High in Towanda. More than just a few came.
“They just kept coming and coming, and I think we had 53 students show up,” said Perez, one of the coaches of the new school’s clay target team.
“I am excited, because this gives me a chance to get outside, and do something for the school and it’s something I really love to do,” said Kyle Hickinbotham, a junior. “ I know I’m really looking forward to it.”
Circle is one of about 17 Kansas high school teams will participate in a statewide trap league this spring.
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“We expect Kansas to eventually have 20 to 25 teams in this, the program’s inaugural year, and that translates in to 500 to 600 kids shooting… by far a record for a state’s inaugural year,” said John Nelson, of USA High School Clay Target League. “We’ve also heard from those interested in getting about another 75 schools shooting clay targets in Kansas. To me, honestly, it’s amazing.”
Hoping to reverse a trend
Nelson said competitive high school shooting got its start in 2001 when his friend, Jim Sable, noticed the lack of young people at Minnesota shotgun ranges.
Sable worked with three local high schools, and got about 30 kids shooting trap competitively against each other. In 2008, Nelson and others got the approval of the state to get trap shooting recognized as a high school sport. Numbers have grown steadily since.
“This spring we expect to have more than 10,000 (Minnesota) student-athletes, representing maybe 450 schools,” said Nelson. “Minnesota is a hockey state, but (high school) trap shooting is bigger than boys and girls hockey programs combined.”
According to the national website, there are now 17 states with high school target leagues.
Perez expects the sport to appeal to a lot of kids in Kansas. One reason, she said, is many Kansas kids are introduced to wing-shooting things such as pheasants and ducks at a young age. Just as importantly, clay target shooting is also something that most kids can do.
Nelson said some of the best shooters in Minnesota are kids that haven’t succeeded in more traditional team sports. In fact, about 35 percent of high school shooters there have never participated in any other kind of school activity.
“This brings out the kids that were kind of hanging back in the shadows,” he said. “You might look out on the line and see a kid in a wheelchair, or a small girl that’s a dancer next to a star football player and they’ll all be breaking targets.”
Emma Hoyt, a Circle senior, said she’ll be on the team hoping to meet more young women who like to shoot, and because she knows she can compete with the boys. She said with good coaching, and practice, anyone can quickly learn to break clay targets.
Tom Binyon, Wichita State shooting coach, helped bring the program to Kansas said participating teams will be part of a common league this spring, and practice at a particular nearby accredited trap range.
Circle’s team will practice at the Ark Valley Gun Club north of Wichita, as will teams from Andover Central, Bishop Carroll and Classic School of Wichita.
All team members shoot at practices and competitions. Perez said on competition days a team’s five best shooters will have their scores entered online to compete with other schools. Perez said members of all Kansas teams can participate in a state championship, in June, at the Ark Valley trap range.
Students will pay an estimated seasonal cost of about $230 per student. That may drop if sponsorships are obtained or large amounts of ammo can be purchased at reduced prices. Students must furnish their own shotguns.
To help insure safety, each participating student must pass a hunter education course. Shotguns and ammo are never allowed at the school. Guns are only loaded after a shooter takes their station at a trap field, and a few seconds before their target is thrown.
Nelson said league rules say there must be a coach for every 10 shooters, but teams often average half of that. Like Perez, who has been a 4H shooting coach for several years, most coaches are not faculty members. Many are local adult shooters who want to see the sport spread. Some are parents who want to get involved and spend some time with their kids.
In Minnesota, Nelson said often a student’s interest in clay target shooting has spread throughout their family. He and Perez hope many of their athletes stick with the sport through most of their lifetime. Some may use target shooting as a way to help continue their education, too.
Binyon said a growing number of colleges around the nation, including Wichita State and several others in Kansas, now have shotgun shooting teams. Some actively recruit good high school shooters.
“I believe it’s a good way for me to meet some new people in high school, and hopefully get a college scholarship and meet more new people there,” said Reid Monk, a Circle freshman. “...and it’s a lot more fun than practicing for their track team. A lot.”