Off like a shot

Sport has ex­ceeded of­fi­cials’ ex­pec­ta­tions from out­set in Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NOT THE NORM SPORTS - STORY BY HENRY AP­PLE Henry Ap­ple can be reached at hap­ or on Twit­ter @NWAHenry.

The Arkansas Youth Shoot­ing Sports Pro­gram has con­tin­u­ally ex­ceeded its ex­pec­ta­tions since the Arkansas Game and Fish Com­mis­sion launched it in 2006 and held its first state tour­na­ment the fol­low­ing year.

Pro­gram di­rec­tor Chuck Wood­son said Game and Fish of­fi­cials would have been happy if 200 stu­dents and 20 coaches showed up at its in­au­gu­ral event. There were ap­prox­i­mately 900 shoot­ers and 125 coaches who ar­rived at the Rem­ing­ton Gun Club in Lonoke to com­pete that year, and the num­bers have climbed each year.

There were al­most 6,000 stu­dents and 825 coaches who at­tended this year’s state tour­na­ment, now held at the Game and Fish’s shoot­ing sports com­plex in Jack­sonville. Wood­son said more than 50,000 stu­dents have par­tic­i­pated in AYSSP, and there’s plenty of room for ad­di­tional growth in the fu­ture.

“It’s been the ded­i­ca­tion of th­ese coaches,” Wood­son said. “I never dreamed of it get­ting this big. There have been some great ri­val­ries built, and those that are in­volved in the pro­gram work hard at it. Our tour­na­ments run ahead of sched­ule about 90 per­cent of the time, and we’ve not had one in­ci­dent dur­ing one of our events.

“It’s a learn­ing sport. A per­son who has never picked up a shot­gun be­fore can be do­ing it in a mat­ter of time if he lis­tens to in­struc­tions. A 9-year-old and a 90-year-old com­pete on the same level, and it’s all about hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion.”

The AYSSP has two di­vi­sions: ju­nior (grades six through eighth) and se­nior (grades 9-12), and all par­tic­i­pants must pass a hunter’s ed­u­ca­tion course to par­tic­i­pate. The sea­son runs from Feb. 1 through July 31, and shoot­ers use ei­ther 12- or 20-gauge shot­guns to shoot at tar­gets launched from ma­chines at 39-42 mph from var­i­ous an­gles and di­rec­tions.

Par­tic­i­pants must take part in five team prac­tices and shoot 25 tar­gets at each prac­tice in or­der to com­pete on a team, whether it comes from a school or other clubs and or­ga­ni­za­tions. Un­like many team sports, schools can field more than one team at a time and have them shoot at the same com­pe­ti­tions.

“We ac­tu­ally had three of our ju­nior teams and two of our se­nior teams that made it to the state com­pe­ti­tion,” said Lin­dell Roth, who along with Cliff Slinkard has over­seen Shiloh Chris­tian’s trap shoot­ing pro­gram since its in­cep­tion in 2010. “Of course you want to have your bet­ter shoot­ers on your top team, so we break our scores down from prac­tices and come up with our teams.”

Roth said he had 85 stu­dents show up for the first trap shoot­ing meet­ing, but that num­ber dropped to 45 be­fore the sea­son ended. Shiloh Chris­tian had 67 shoot­ers this year and has en­joyed some suc­cess in trap shoot­ing. One of its teams — the Shiloh Chris­tian Gun­slingers — won the West Re­gional with a score of 231 of 250 tar­gets hit, two tar­gets bet­ter than Huntsville’s “Ugly Uni­corns.” Johnathon Kear­ney of Shiloh Chris­tian was one of two shoot­ers to record a per­fect 50 of 50 shoot­ing that day and took sec­ond in the Cham­pion of Cham­pi­ons Rounds.

“It comes with a lot of prac­tice,” said Roth, whose team prac­tices on do­nated land near Ho­g­eye and on a range specif­i­cally built for trap shoot­ing. “You just don’t go out there and shoot the birds the first time. It takes a lot of con­cen­tra­tion and tech­nique. We’ll shoot 35,000-40,000 rounds in prac­tice, and that’s just our club.

“We have a sched­ule for our team, and they show up. They shoot their rounds, and our main goal is safety. We re­peat­edly go over the safety as­pects of shoot­ing. The kids have learned so much be­ing around shot­guns and weapons. We’ve had par­ents say their kids didn’t want to get out of the house, and now they want to shoot and go squir­rel hunt­ing and stuff.”

Ben­tonville High started its trap shoot­ing club this year af­ter a de­sire to do so for a num­ber of years, and Ben­tonville West started one with the open­ing of its cam­pus. Kevin York, an as­sis­tant foot­ball coach, over­saw Ben­tonville’s new club and mainly ad­ver­tised it through the school’s out­door ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram in or­der to draw in­ter­est.

Ben­tonville had about 12 to 15 shoot­ers who stuck it out through the re­gional tour­na­ment. Once they were down there, York quickly learned how big the sport has be­come.

“We shot our best and had scored some per­sonal records,” York said. “I’m not the great­est shot­gun coach; I’m not even a level 1 coach. I was shocked that there was this com­mu­nity of peo­ple in this state that love this sport and love the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“There’s camper trail­ers hooked up there where peo­ple come in for this week­end event and camp out. It’s like go­ing to Lit­tle League base­ball. I didn’t re­al­ize there’s this fol­low­ing that goes to th­ese shoot­ing clubs and shoot­ing events. There’s this cir­cle of peo­ple that come around and see peo­ple they know, just like they do at Lit­tle League base­ball.”

Photo cour­tesy of Lin­dell Roth

The Shiloh Chris­tian Gun­slingers cap­tured the Arkansas Youth Shoot­ing Sports Pro­gram’s West Re­gional cham­pi­onship dur­ing its May tour­na­ment in Jack­sonville and qual­i­fied for the AYSSP state tour­na­ment in May. The Gun­slingers hit 231 of 250 tar­gets dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, edg­ing Huntsville’s Ugly Uni­corns by two tar­gets. One Shiloh Chris­tian shooter, Johnathon Kear­ney, hit a per­fect 50 of 50 and earned a spot in the Cham­pion of Cham­pi­ons event in June.

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