Students across the state are getting the opportunity to be part of an activity that was usually left out of schools. It started in 2001 with three metro-area clay target teams meeting at the Plymouth Gun Club. Jim Sable, founder of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League, saw a lot of interest in the sport so he contacted the Minnesota State High School League to see what they could do about spreading the sport across the state. The MSHSCTL was created in 2009, allowing the sport to be offered in every high school in Minnesota.
"Not every kid is cut out to be a football player. Not every kid is cut out to be a basketball player," said Sable in a video about the league. "You don't need size, strength, or speed to be a good trap shooter. You need hand-eye coordination and an opportunity to do it. "
The league started out with just three teams, three participating schools and roughly 30 athletes. Now the MSHSCTL includes 185 teams, 275 participating schools and more than 6,100 athletes.
A Lakeview High School student takes aim at a clay target during a scored match in late April. The team from Cottonwood is shooting at the Southwest Sportsmen’s Club in Minneota this year. The team will be competing closer to home next season after trap equipment is installed at a range near Cottonwood.
"We're giving an awful lot of kids an opportunity to participate in an extracurricular activity," said Sable. "(The opportunity) to earn a letter, to have a team picture in the yearbook, (kids) wouldn't have had that opportunity without this program."
Southwest Minnesota has seen its share of growth in the sport.
Participating high schools in the area include BOLD, Canby, ECHO Charter, Lakeview, La qui Parle Valley, MACCRAY, Marshall, Montevideo, Mountain Lake, St. James, Wabasso and Worthington.
Darren Beck is the head coach of the Lakeview High School team and has seen a lot of community support for the sport.
"We have lots of local sponsors," Beck said. "Runnings bought all of the kids' vests."
Sponsorship has been vital to the teams as a lot of clays and ammunition get used.
"We go through about 1,050 rounds a night," Beck said.
The Lakeview team is shooting at the Southwest Sportsmen's Club in Minneota this year but will be shooting closer to Cottonwood next season after trap equipment is installed at a local range.
"We compete against nine other schools in our division," Beck said. "Then we put our scores in (online), and the state calculates the totals. So we don't have to travel, which is nice."
"It's also nice to see guys and girls competing side by side," Beck added. His daughter, Emily, is the only girl on the team, but other schools have started to see an increase in female participation. Trap shooting is one of the few events that have males and females competing on the same level.
Chad Johnson has a son on the Lakeview team and sees the league as a great opportunity for students who may not be interested in other school athletics to compete.
"It gets a whole other group of kids participating in a sport," Johnson said. "And like golf, these kids can do this (sport) for the rest of their lives."
Marshall High School started a clay target team this year and has 44 boys and seven girls signed up to compete. Head coach Nick Simonson said their season is off to a great start, except for the snow, rain and wind that has been persistent this spring.
"It's been a challenge to overcome the weather," Simonson said. "But the kids are very excited, engaged and involved in this new opportunity."
Lyon County Pheasants Forever, Redwood River Sportsmen's Club, Buffalo Ridge Gobblers National Wild Turkey Federation and Borch's Sporting Goods help sponsor Marshall's team.
Simonson is the president of Lyon County Pheasants Forever, and many of the team's other coaches are also members of sponsor groups.
"We have over a dozen coaches for the Marshall team, and it's a huge advantage for the kids that haven't shot before," Simonson said. "Our coaches have a lot of experience which helps up the kids' learning curve faster. I've seen a lot of improvement."
All of the weekly shoots are leading up to two tournaments that will take place at the end of the season.
"We have an open tournament on June 9 that any of the athletes can participate in," Simonson said. "Then the state invite tournament is the following weekend."
"We're looking forward to the second half of the season," Simonson added. "The kids are really coming into their own."
TRAP SHOOTING HISTORY and RULES
Trap shooting has been around since the late 18th century, when live birds were placed in traps and then released, with clay targets being introduced in the late 1800s. It was added to the Olympics in 1900 and in 2013 Kim Rhode became the first American ever to medal in five consecutive Olympic games in an individual sport. Trap shooting is one of three types of competitive clay pigeon shooting, the other two being skeet shooting and sporting clays.
The three disciplines differ by where the targets are released and what direction they travel in. In trap shooting, targets are launched away from the shooter from a single machine. Skeet shooting involves targets launched from two machines on either side of the shooter, so the targets run perpendicular in front of the shooter. Sporting clays are more similar to trap shooting, but involve a larger course (almost like a golf course) with numerous launch points.
In trap shooting, two rounds consisting of 25 targets each are shot at an event for a total of 50 targets. Up to five shooters stand at five different stations on the trap field, rotating every 25 targets (five per shooter) so each shooter has a chance to shoot from each station.
Shooters shout "pull" to call for a target to be launched from an oscillating target thrower that randomizes the path clays travel when launched. In order to hold an event or practice, a team coach and a Range Safety Officer must be present. All guns must be carried open and unloaded and all athletes must have completed their firearms safety training, as well as wear eye and ear protection. Athletes are required to use factory ammunition and all types of smooth-bore shotguns that do not exceed 12-gauge caliber can be used.