PEORIA — Brimfield and Canton high schools have teams on which students have the opportunity to take their best shots.
Trap shooting has surfaced at the prep level in the Peoria area. Brimfield was first to the party, opening its third season this month.
Canton, observing the success of the Brimfield program, launched its team a few weeks ago.
“Trap shooting right now is the fastest-growing sport at the junior high and high school levels in Illinois,” said Brimfield team co-director Boger Hessing. “You have a mix of kids who do everything under the sun — come right from softball or baseball practice to shoot in practice here — and kids for whom this is their only activity, their only chance to compete.”
The teams are part of the Illinois State High School Clay Target League, which is under the national sanctioning body USA High School Clay Target League. A team is required to be organized through a high school to gain membership. In 2007-08, there were 30 kids on three teams participating. Last season, that USA number had grown to 28,853 students on 804 teams in 19 states.
Competitions during the season are virtual. Each team records results at its home range and submits them to the league, and they are compared to an opponent.
Each team member shoots at 50 targets — from five different firing angles, during a team competition. Whoever hits the most wins. The league provides an online tracking system that provides detailed statistical analysis of every shooter in the state, every team competition, etc.
The season is five events, and concludes with a state tournament in Bunker Hill, near Edwardsville, in which 300 teams will gather on June 2.
“I know, you hear guns, kids and schools and you don’t hear that in a positive way much,” Hessing said. “No guns are allowed on school property. And the kids have to go through state and league gun safety courses, and are supervised at all times by adults in the program. We’re teaching them discipline and respect for firearms and their surroundings.”
Brimfield shoots at the Elmwood Trap Club in Sweetwater Park. At least four or five adults from the Elmwood club are present with the kids to help out at every session, along with a team staff that includes head coach Scott Avery (a DNR officer), Hessing, co-director Jason Sparks and others.
Brimfield has 34 players on its team — male and female, sixth graders through high school seniors.
They shoot 12-gauge or 20-gauge shotguns, which each player provides. A decent competition gun costs about $450.
Unless you are inherit a special one, like Brimfield senior Jake Hessing did.
Holding his grandfather’s circa 1922 Remington Model 11 shotgun, he calmly obliterated 24 of 25 targets in practice. “He gave it to my dad, and it’s been passed down to me,” Hessing said. “I’ve been around guns my whole life, started shooting when I was 10 or 11.
“I’m on the football and scholastic bowl teams, and I joined this because it’s a chance to shoot more. I love it.”
Two stations to his right was Jonnie Lance, a sixth-grader and multi-sport athlete.
“My brother was on the trap team last year, and I wanted to try it,” Lance said. “It’s really fun. If you like being outdoors, and shooting, this is for you.”
Canton officials, meanwhile, visited the Brimfield team last year, saw what was in place, and were determined to form their own team.
“It’s been fantastic so far,” said Canton co-coach Jason Parsons, a curriculum director for the Canton school district who helped start up its archery program eight years ago. “Our school board voted to do this. We’ve found that getting kids involved directly in competition leads to higher levels of achievement elsewhere.
“I had an older man, someone’s grandfather, walk up and hand me a check for $200 last week. He said it was for whatever the program needs.
“That’s the great part of this sport, it bridges generations. Kids 12-18 spend time learning and shooting with guys who’ve been out there doing it for decades.”
The Brimfield and Canton clubs, by the way, are non-profit entities, as is the Illinois league. They survive on donations of time, money, guns, ammunition and shooting locations. The Princeville Pheasants Forever organization, for example, gave the Brimfield club a $1,000 grant and loaned four youth guns.
“You have sixth-graders who can shoot the pants off seniors in competition,” Sparks said. “We had a girl on our team last year who was a senior and never had a hunting background. Didn’t own a gun. By the time the state tournament arrived, she shot 70 of 100 targets.
“Trap shooting is for everyone. Anyone, really.”
The Brimfield crew loves the sport and hopes other schools get involved. You can contact them directly with any questions via email at BrimfieldHighSchoolTrapTeam@gmail.com. The league website has lots of information at www.ilclaytarget.com.
“Not a lot of schools have these shooting teams,” said Brimfield freshman Maddie Hessing, who is on the school’s basketball and softball teams. “I shot with this team last year, and it’s just so much fun to do.”
Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen and Chiefs for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.