Between my nieces and other high school kids at church, I’m familiar with the term “Going to Nationals,” and it usually means national livestock judging, national scholars bowl etc. But to a group of 7 Nickerson High schooler’s, “going to nationals” carries a slightly different meaning, as they are going to compete in the first ever USA Clay Target League National Championship tournament at Mason, Michigan, where they will shoot against nearly 2000 other high school trap shooters.
Trap shooting is the fastest growing sport in the US, with an average of 3 states adding high school teams each year. Two years ago 13 Kansas high schools had trap shooting teams, last year there were 36 high school teams here in the state and this year there are 59 Kansas high school trap shooting teams with over 1250 shooters. Thirteen Kansas colleges now offer trap shooting scholarships, some of them “full rides,” and about 21,000 colleges nationwide have trap shooting teams.
Clay target shooting comes in 3 forms; sporting clays, skeet and trap. Sporting clays is shot on a course set up in a woodland setting where shooters move from station-to-station and is the nearest to actual hunting conditions. Skeet shooting is done on a dedicated range where clay targets are thrown high or low across in front of the shooters. Trap shooting is done on a range where clay targets come from a “trap house” (thrower) at various angles in front of the shooters and are always going away from them.
The USA High School Clay Target league allows team members to be 12 years old through 12th grade. Currently in its third year, the Nickerson Trap Club has 21 members, 19 boys and 2 girls, and the 7 that qualified for the national tournament are high school boys. Chris Oden, David Graham, Joe Tuxhorn, Mathew Meadows and Eric Maleckie are the 5 primary shooters and Clayton Edwards and Jordan Schmidt are the alternates. The 3 coaches are Travis Oden, Jeff Harbert and Larry Meadows. All 7 guys and all 3 coaches are also hunters, and it sounds as though that’s a common denominator among most team members.
I asked the guys why they got into trap shooting and got responses like “I like shooting guns,” “Because it doesn’t interfere with other team sports during school,” and “It’s safer than most team sports.” But the response overwhelmingly echoed by all shooters was “Because anyone can do it; it’s a co-ed sport and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. You don’t have to be a jock and it’s a sport you can enjoy for the rest of your life.” That sounds like my kind of fun!
Coach Larry meadows told me “Trap shooting is all about hand / eye coordination. He said “you can’t teach that, but you can coach people how to get better at it.” New or inexperienced shooters are started by positioning them mush closer to the trap house where the targets come from. The coaches watch over their shoulder as they shoot and tell them which way to adjust when they miss targets. Coaches suggest how they stand, how they hold their shotgun and position themselves and how to line up on targets, but in the end, Meadows says each shooter has to find what works best for them. As new shooters get better, they are moved back to the normal shooting line.
At the Michigan tournament, there will be both team and individual competitions. 288 teams of 5 will participate in the team event and 1200 in the individual competition. The course is massive and made up of 44 trap houses stretching for ¾ of a mile. Team shooters will begin by shooting 2 rounds of 25 targets each, take a break then shoot 2 more rounds, 100 targets total. After all teams have completed the first go-around, the top scoring teams will advance. That will repeat, eliminating teams each time until the championship is decided.
During my evening spent with the Nickerson shooters, it was mentioned numerous times just how safe the sport of trap shooting is. At each practice 1 coach assumes the role of range safety officer and strict safety rules are enforced. It’s estimated that this year alone nationwide in the USA High School Clay Target League there have been 28 million trigger pulls without injury! Also noteworthy is that although Nickerson High is financially helping the team get to the tournament, until now the team has been totally self-supported. Getting to participate in this national tournament required the guys to qualify, and they did so by qualifying among the top 5% of teams in the nation; if that doesn’t sufficiently impress you, maybe you should take up knitting!…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]