Guns Ain’t Going Anywhere: Trap And Skeet Shooting The Fastest-Growing Wyoming School Sport

in Wyoming Life/Wyoming outdoors

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Wyoming folks of a certain age may recall when school-related shooting sports were common, but in recent decades schools and firearms have been increasingly regarded as toxic and potentially tragic partners.

Some Wyoming volunteer trap and skeet shooting coaches are trying to change that.

“To see a kid who goes from hitting only four or five targets out of a round of 25 to hitting 20 out of 25, that’s rewarding,” said Brad Smith, head coach of the Cheyenne East High School clay target shooting team.

“It’s good for me,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “I’m a graduate of East High. I graduated in ’99, and I wanted to return and give something back.”

Being part of a sport like trap and skeet shooting teaches positive lessons and responsibility, said Lew Vasquez, who coaches the Wright High School clay shooting team.

“It’s a neat opportunity for kids,” he said. “It’s definitely something I would have liked to have had the opportunity to do back in my high school days.”

Vasquez also coaches track and field jumping events and basketball at Wright High School.

“So, now I’ve added trap shooting to that,” he said. “What’s one more iron in the fire?”

Bustin’ Clay

In trap and skeet, shooters use shotguns loaded with low-recoil, target-grade ammunition. They try to hit brightly-colored, disc-shaped airborne targets, commonly called “clay pigeons.” The targets are launched at high speed by electric machines at shooting ranges.

Shooters yell out “pull” when they’re ready for a target to be launched.

Clay pigeons shatter spectacularly when struck by a good hit. But hitting them can be more difficult than a casual observer might assume. Upon a miss, an observer calls out “loss” as the disc runs out of momentum and crashes to the ground.

The sport has different iterations. Vasquez said his favorite is sporting clays.

“I tell people that sporting clays is like golf with guns,” he said. “You move around a course to different stations, each with its own challenge.”

Rapidly-Growing Sport

“We’re the fastest-growing high school sport in the country,” Josh Kroells, who lives near Minneapolis, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

He’s operations manager for the USA Clay Target League and also state coordinator for the Wyoming State High School Clay Target League. There are high school clay target shooting teams in 34 states involving about 34,000 students, he said.

Younger students can also participate, he said, as the sport is open to students in grades six through 12.

Kroells is marketing school clay target shooting in numerous other states and helped launch Wyoming’s program in 2019. It began with a 40 students spread among four teams, Kroells said. There now are 214 Wyoming students on 13 teams at high schools across the state.

“We act, smell and feel like a school sport,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to get recognized as a school athletic organization.”

The USA Clay Target League provides some organizational support, but the sport relies largely on volunteer coaches and funding from business and donors at the local levels, Kroells said.

For example, buying ammunition has been challenging, he said.

“Supplies have been low since COVID,” he said. “For a while, the problem was getting primers for shotgun shell manufacturers. Then they couldn’t get powder because of supply chain problems. Then they couldn’t find plastic for the shell hulls.

“Clay target ammunition was about $50 per case (10 boxes of 25 shells each. Now it’s up to about $80-90 per case.”

A Club Sport

Firearms can’t be kept at schools, so local teams also are responsible for arranging with coaches and parents to get students and their shotguns from their homes to practice sessions or competitions at gun club ranges, Kroells said. Some teams also make arrangements to have students’ shotguns and ammunition stored at the clubs.

The goal is to have trap and skeet teams recognized as official school club sports, he added. Those aren’t at the same level as school-sanctioned sports, such as football or basketball.

“If we became a fully-sanctioned school sport, then we would be required to have paid coaches at many of the schools, and we would also be ineligible to get donations or sponsorships from local businesses,” Kroells said.

To officially use a school’s name, a clay target shooting team must get clearance from a school’s athletic director, school board or some other similar authority, he said.

State And National Tournaments

The Wyoming league has two five-week seasons, one in the fall and another in the spring. The current fall season wraps up later this month.

The statewide tournament is in Torrington in June. The USA Clay Target League nationals are hosted each July in Michigan.

Smith said he’s sent some of his shooters to nationals. Vasquez aspires to do the same.

Father-And-Sons Effort

Smith credits his older son, Burke, with getting the Cheyenne team started.

“Because of a divorce, he was living with his mother in Nebraska, and he was shooting clay on a school team there,” the elder Smith said. “When he moved to Cheyenne, he asked me if we could start a team here.”

Burke Smith graduated in 2020, and now serves as one of the clay shooting team’s coaches, his father said. His younger son, Brody, qualified as a sixth grader to join the league.

The team got authorization from school officials to use the “Cheyenne East” name, but it welcomes students from all of the city’s high schools, Brad Smith said.

Clay target shooting can provide an opportunity for students who might not otherwise participate in sports, he said.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, or 5-foot-5 and 100 pounds,” he said. “It’s open to anybody who wants to try it, including kids with disabilities.”

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