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Clay Pigeon Shooting Competitions Hit the Mark

2 Nov, 2016

By: Michael Popke

Almost 3,000 high school athletes are shooting guns in Minnesota this fall, and at least one man couldn’t be happier.

“The 2016 fall league has grown by 15 teams and almost 400 student-athletes from last year,” Jim Sable, executive director of both the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League and the USA High School Clay Target League, told ABC Newspapers. “This year’s increase in participation is a reflection of the tremendous growth seen in the league’s spring season that hosted over 10,000 student athletes representing 319 teams.”

The 2,934 student-athletes from Minnesota represent 126 school shooting teams this fall. Last spring, the league hosted more than 10,000 student-athletes representing 319 teams. State officials anticipate that number will reach 12,000 before too long — thanks to something called “virtual” competition. Here’s how the ABC Newspapers article explains it: 

The Minnesota State High School Clay Target League attracts student-athletes to participate in shooting sports while creating a “virtual” competition among high school teams throughout Minnesota. Family travel is minimal because practices and competitions are conducted at a shooting range near the school’s location. Conferences are determined by team size rather than geographic location for fair competition. Athletes earn True Team scoring points as determined by their performance and ranking against all athlete scores within their team’s conference. The team score and overall standing are calculated by adding the earned points from qualifying athletes and posted on the league’s website. Athletes and their families track their individual and team performance on their phone, tablet or computer via the Shooter Performance Tracker.

Welcome to high school sports in 2016.

Truth be told, the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League dates back to 2001 when it began at the Plymouth Gun Club; no injuries have ever been reported. That organization is one of at 18 state high school leagues under the umbrella of the USA High School Clay Target League — a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation and the independent provider of shooting sports as an extracurricular co-ed activity for students in grades six through 12. All participants must have firearms safety certification. The governing league calls clay shooting “American’s fastest-growing high school sport” on its website.

“In this sport you don’t have to be big, strong, fast or agile,” Sable told AberdeenNews.com. “All you need is good concentration and good hand-eye coordination.”

To see Sable recount the history of high school clay shooting in Minnesota, watch this video.

The sport is taking aim not only in Minnesota but also across the country. New Mexico and South Dakota held inaugural clay target state shooting championships this spring, and the Belleville Henderson Central School District recently become the first in New York to establish a team.

Earlier this year, Sports Destination Management reported that clay target shooting was one of four types of shooting sports that saw significant participation gains in 2015. The 2016 Participation Report from the Physical Activity Council, which analyzes trends in exercise and physical activity, indicated that four of the top ten growth activities last year involve the use of firearms: target shooting (handgun), target shooting (clay), hunting (rifle) and target shooting (rifle).

Burgeoning high school programs will no doubt help boost Team USA’s dominance at the 2020 Olympic Games and beyond. In Rio this year, three women on the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team medaled, including Ginny Thrasher, who took home gold in Women’s Air Rifle; Corey Cogdell-Unrein won bronze in Women’s Trap; and Kim Rhode captured bronze in the Women’s Skeet. (Trap and skeet shooting involve clay targets).

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