The New Hot Sport at High School and Colleges: Target Shooting | Sports Destination Management

The New Hot Sport at High School and Colleges: Target Shooting

Aug 04, 2023 | By: Michael Popke

The MTA Homegrounds — a facility in Mason, Michigan, that includes 44 trap shooting fields — hosted the 2023 USA Clay Target League National Championship in early July with thousands of high school participants, plus coaches, parents and spectators. A total of 400 student-athletes and 80 teams qualified for the championship rounds.


A few months earlier, in mid-March, nearly 800 student-athletes from 29 states competed in the inaugural Association of College Unions International (ACUI) and Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) College Nationals at the historic National Shooting Complex in San Antonio.


The success of both events indicate how much clay target shooting has evolved. At the high school level, Minnesota was the first state to introduce high school trap shooting — in which participants use a shotgun to shoot down small clay targets in the air. Officials held the first statewide competition in 2009.


“We had about 10 student athletes participating in the tournament,” USA Clay Target League (USACTL) president John Nelson told Minnesota Public Radio in June. “Fast forward to where we’re at today for the trapshooting championship, and we have over 8,000 student athletes participating and 340 teams. … We have had more than 250,000 student-athletes through our program, and they’ve pulled the trigger more than 200 million times, and we’ve never had a reported injury.”


The New Hot Sport at High School and Colleges: Clay Pigeon ShootingAccording to Shooting Sports USA, “the USA Clay Target League grew from the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League (MNSHSCTL), a program with roots going back to the early 2000s. Concerned about the decline of shooting ranges and increasing age of the average participant, Plymouth Gun Club in Plymouth, Minn., named Jim Sable the youth program director to solve the problem. His idea to start in schools began it all.”


States like Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, New York, North Dakota and South Dakota soon followed Minnesota’s lead as early adapters of the sport. By April 2023, Shooting Sports USA notes, there were nearly 35,000 student-athletes competing on 1,625 high school, college and homeschool teams, with more than 9,600 coaches, team staff and other volunteers. There were 51 USACTL state tournaments in 2022, and the number of participating shooting ranges soared last year, too, with the league adding 200 new ones.


All students must pass a gun safety test, according to MPR, and a beginner gun can cost “a few hundred dollars” up to several thousand dollars. But the payoff can be worth the price.


“You go to a baseball game or a soccer game or basketball and there’s always kids that sit on the bench,” Jennie Stone, head coach of the trap shooting team from Minnewaska Area High School in Minnesota, told MPR. “In trap shooting, nobody sits on the bench, everybody plays every week, and everybody has the opportunity to have their score count that day.”


While the nine-week USACTL high school spring season took place in April and May, with state tournaments in June and the national championship in July, college trap shooters compete in a short spring season and then return in the fall, as they vie for a spot at the USA College Clay Target League National Championship in October.


Meanwhile, the 2023 ACUI-SCTP National College Championship last spring in Texas was the first year of a partnership between the two organizations.


“San Antonio’s National Shooting Complex has long been home for the collegiate world’s national shotgun championships,” according to Shooting Sports USA. “ACUI has hosted this Collegiate Championship event for more than 50 years, with athletes contesting for trophies and scholarships. Support from SCTP will only enhance the match for college athletes.”


The San Antonio-based Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation is a nonprofit educational-athletic organization dedicate to providing shooting sports education and opportunities to school-age youths around the country, and in 2021 it was selected as the National Governing Body for NCAA Pistol by the pistol coaches at NCAA colleges. As a result, the SSSF added air rifle, air pistol and sport pistol disciplines to its slate of programs. And in July, the foundation hosted the 2023 SSSF National Championships, with a record-breaking 4,000-plus participants and nearly 12,000 event entries.


“This growth is welcomed, as we have seen a tremendous influx of new teams and athletes this season, as well as more participation in what is the largest youth shooting sports event in the world,” foundation co-presidents Tom Wondrash and Rick Leach wrote in the program for this year’s championship.

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