HORACE, N.D. - Getting a lot of kids involved in shooting sports was the aim, and the Shanley High School/Sullivan Middle School trap-shooting team hit the target.
The first-year team had 56 participants and tremendous support from parents, with 19 volunteering to work as assistant coaches for the young shooters, head coach John Eldredge said.
Trap team members from the Fargo Catholic schools sharpened their shotgun skills on Thursday, May 26, at The Shooting Park in Horace, taking turns on the firing line in an effort to turn clay pigeons into orange powder.
Calvin Clasen is a seventh-grader who uses a Beretta A400 Extreme shotgun that's nearly as long as he's tall.
Eldredge said Clasen is one of the team's better shots.
Clasen said he's been shooting since age 2, but only shooting trap the last six months.
"I like seeing the clay pigeons blowing up, and also just shooting guns with friends," Clasen said. "Once you shoot a round, you don't want to stop."
Jake Pollard is a ninth-grader who grew up with a love of hunting.
"My dad would carry me into the field, put me down to shoot a bird, and then pick me up," said Pollard, who has been shooting guns "as long as I can remember."
He joined the team because, "I like to shoot guns and being outside. If I had free time, it's what I'd do anyway. ... It's kind of addicting."
Eldredge teaches religion and math at Sullivan. He said the team is young, mostly seventh- and eighth-graders, and the future looks bright.
"When I first agreed to do this, I thought maybe we'd have 20 (students)," Eldredge said. "They just flooded my room."
The students supply their own weapons and ammunition, Eldredge said.
He said the progress has been gratifying to see, as the young marksmen and women, who once hit perhaps 10 or 12 clay pigeons out of 25, are now scoring in the teens or low-20s
"It's just an amazing experience," Eldridge said.
Eldredge said having a lot of coaches is good. He likes to have three coaches at each of the five shooting boxes at the range. If anyone can't make it, there's backup, he said.
The squad's competitive shooting is done for the year, except for the state tournament, which will be June 18 at The Shooting Park in Horace, Eldredge said.
Brad Sunderland, coach of the Fargo Oak Grove Lutheran School trap team, now in its second year, is excited for the Shanley team.
"This is really cool," he said, as he watched the Shanley/Sullivan shooters practice. "You guys are having great success. This is awesome."
Last year, there were four trap shooting teams in the state; this year, there are 23. About 70 students were involved; this year, more than 500 are shooting trap competitively, Sunderland said.
Next year, Sunderland predicts that there will be more than 50 schools in North Dakota with trap teams.
"We've got a whole bunch of real good shooters," said Shanley/Sullivan assistant coach Anne Leonhart.
About 10 of the shooters are girls, she said.
"We've got a couple of girls that are awesome," Leonhart said.
That includes eighth-grader Kelly Christmann, who steadily turned the clay pigeons into dust at The Shooting Park, despite gusty winds.
"I've been (deer) hunting since age 5 with my dad," Christmann said.
Eldredge said the team's trap shooters need to have a hunters education certification, and he's certified to teach that class.
Trap shooting has five stations - one for each of five competitors - in a box.
The shooters are about 16 yards away from the box. They then take turns shooting from each station. They shoot five rounds from each station, then rotate, so that over a series they shoot from five different angles.
When a shooter yell's "Pull!" a clay pigeon shoots out a different angle each time. The shooters must break away at least a piece of a pigeon to have a shot counted as a hit.
In the spring league for the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League, Shanley/Sullivan placed second in the Class A "Conference 4" group, just behind Devils Lake High School and ahead of Oak Grove, West Fargo Sheyenne and Wahpeton high schools.
The trap season started at the beginning of April, with competition running from weeks four through eight, Eldredge said.
The Shooting Park hosts seven area school teams on a weekly basis.
The state tournament on June 18 will be open to the public, with nearly 400 students qualified to compete so far, said Mark Erdmann, owner of The Shooting Park.
The students will shoot two rounds of 50 rounds apiece, at the state competition, Erdmann said.