by Eric A Thomas
Shooting events as a sport in the Olympics have been around since 1896 and separate events for women were added in 1984.
Shooting sports are prominent with the non-Olympian as well. In recent years, the popularity of trap shooting has led many high schools nationwide to add the sport to its list of athletics.
For the school year 2020-2021, there were 1,310 organized high school teams spanning 34 states and within those teams, there were over 36,000 participants. Minnesota was instrumental in making trap shooting a high school sport. The national body governing this sport was incorporated in 2012.
“This sport is teaching youth how to be a part of the team and how to build individual confidence,” remarked Bruce Schafer, a gun sporting enthusiast and member of the Jacksonville Sportsman’s Club. “Since the weekly shoots take place at local clubs, travel is minimal and the cost to parents is relatively low.”
Two local high schools are competing in their first year of competitive trap shooting. West Central Cougars (Winchester/Bluffs) and South County Vipers (Waverly/Franklin) are in their inaugural season.
The Cougars have 18 members, all West Central students from grades 9-12. They are coached by Scott Mason, Avery Maul, Dave Hutton and Nichole Mason.
The Vipers have 16 members from grades 7-12. Their team members are mostly from South County, but they do have a few from other schools. Their coaches are Dave Pence, Jed Allen and Becky Carroll. One other central Illinois school, Greenfield High School, is in their fifth season and they have 11 members.
Illinois has a total of 61 registered teams from all over the state. The Illinois State High School Clay Target League overseas the sport. This is the only sanctioned sport under the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) that can be coed and welcomes adapted student athletes. This is a big step for students who have a disability of a physical nature. To learn more about this sport in Illinois, check out the Illinois State High School Clay Target League website, ilclaytarget.com.
To be a member of a shooting team, students must possess a league-approved firearm education certificate and the appropriate firearm. The size of the team is typically restricted by two aspects, which are 1) the capacity of the shooting facility and 2) the number of coaches available. The state requires one coach for every 10 team members.
The competition season is divided into fall and spring leagues. Conferences are assigned by the size of the team, not schools – and each competition is a team-scored event. All individual scores make up the team score. “The fall season equals nine weeks,” reports South County Coach Carroll. “The first three weeks were practice followed by six weeks of competition.” During competition each participant shoots 50 targets each week, two rounds of 25 each. A broken target counts as a “hit” and a missed target is not counted.
“The fall season is going well,” stated West Central Coach Scott Mason. “In our first season, we are trying to focus on the fundamentals of the sport.” By the end of the spring league, there will be a state tournament followed by nationals.
The first competition of the fall league was held September 28 for West Central and South County and took place at the Jacksonville Sportsman’s Club (JSC). Two members of the club, Schafer and Tad Collison, oversaw that the equipment ran properly, that the targets thrown met league guidelines, and that all safety procedures were being followed.
JSC was organized at its present location of 2021 New Lake Rd. in South Jacksonville in 1950 and is a nonprofit, all volunteer-organized group dedicated to promoting firearm safety and introducing people to shotgun sports. The club is a private membership club, but all shooting events are open to the public.
Follow each team on their Facebook pages of “West Central Cougars Shooting Sports” and “South County Vipers Trap Team” for season results and team updates.