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A season saved

I’m a firm believer that a quick trip to the water is better than no trip at all. One jaunt in the uplands, even in the middle of the afternoon well ahead of the witching hour, can still produce plenty of excitement. Even a short sit on stand in the fall to watch the sunrise and the first few deer filter in and out of the draw produces memories. A full life, and memorable outdoor activity, requires making the most of what you’ve got with the time allotted. It was a lesson hammered home again this season with the disjointed spring that set up for the shooting sports teams I help organize and coach.

I can recall with great disappointment the day the season would have started, March 29. The high temperature was 65 degrees with sunny skies and a light wind. There was no snow cover, and it seemed fittingly ironic that what would have been the kickoff date was perhaps the nicest opening our groups had experienced (make that would have experienced) as in the past two seasons the participants have shot through rain, wind and cold to begin their competition. More than once in the past few years, volunteers were out just days ahead of the start to shovel and blow off the pathways and posts around the green brick traphouses to make sure the program got rolling on time amidst the snow.

While our coaching staff watched the news and went back and forth on how to properly socially distance our young shooters, we waited for word from the governor on reopening plans from around the state. Tweaking a few things — like removing shoulder-to-shoulder team meetings in the clubhouse before shoots, wrestling with a less-than-ideal scheduling tool to get people to and from their houses with minimal contact, and requiring the use of face coverings up until the kids reached their posts, among other adjustments — we were able to come up with a plan. Cramming five weeks’ worth of trap shooting into four, while launching a new skeet program on the side, six weeks after what would have been an ideal opener — we started. Thanks to the incredible help of dozens of coaches and volunteers, and a good 80% of participants hanging on to compete, we made it to this week, our final one of the modified season. It’s been more than worth it.

For the high school seniors and the rock-solid leaders of our schools’ teams, who had not only a good chunk of their final year disrupted by the pandemic, but also lost one last shot to compete in the canceled state tournament which would have been this weekend, it was obviously a welcome opportunity to contend in a less-than-normal regular season and take a breath of fresh air, even if through the cloth of a facemask while getting ready to shoot. For our developing shooters, who will bear the mantle going forward, it was the chance to shake the rust off and improve, even if in a disjointed fashion and come-as-you-can shooting schedule which had them working with different coaches each day they were present. For the 30 first-timers, it was undoubtedly an odd experience, with coaches telling them how to adjust their arms, legs and heads, without being able to reach out and lift their elbow or change their stance with a tap on the foot. It was a process that’s a bit like explaining how to tie a shoe, only with a shotgun in hand. However, they found their places and their form, and were soon shooting alongside the veterans and rising stars, knowing that as conditions improve, they’ll have more opportunities to practice, grow and succeed, in a sport we all learned allows for some space and can have very minimal contact.

For many of us coaches as well, having any season was better than no season at all. For me, staring at the blank squares on the spreadsheet following the name, school and grade of each shooter without numbers to enter, average, and go way too in-depth on as I do each March and April, left a gaping hole in my heart and mind. Being able to receive score entries at least later on in the season filled the void, and reviewing the names and numbers added depth to instilling some positivity on the range as I connected the data with their smiling faces (at least, I assume they were smiling under the face coverings). With my final coaching session wrapped, and just two last-weekend dates available before we enter the season’s scores into the online system, I look back on a spring saved and the hard work of dozens, both from the participants behind the trap houses who stuck it out to compete and the amazing coaches and volunteers who backed them up and made it happen, and am thankful for the time we had, however modified and limited it might have been …in our outdoors.

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