By DAVE CAMPBELL | AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kalley Johnson was hunting with her father by age 4. She had a bow and arrow in hand two years later. She once shot a zebra on a productive big-game trip to Namibia.
Who knew those skills would earn her varsity letters?
“Sometimes if I tell a random person I’m on the trapshooting team, they kind of look at me funny like, `You’re a girl. You can do that?’ I’m like, `Yeah, we do it all the time,”’ said Johnson, a just-graduated senior at Delano High School. “But it’s definitely getting better. The first year it started, there were only three girls on the team. Now we’re at about 15 or 20. So it’s getting more common, I guess, for girls to shoot.”
For boys, too.
The Minnesota State High School Clay Target League, which incorporates coed trap and skeet shooting, will hold its second annual state tournament on Saturday in Prior Lake, a suburb about 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The top 100 individual scorers from the regular season will vie for statewide honors, after a team competition with the top five shooters from each participating school.
The league was created by Jim Sable, who was worried about the future of the sport when he realized at age 62 in 2001 he was one of the younger members at his Twin Cities area gun range. He saw in his church’s bulletin one Sunday a notice seeking mentors for high school students and offered his services as a trap shooting tutor.
“Divine providence,” Sable said.
His first protegee, a 14-year-old girl, helped form the first team at Orono High School. By 2008, the league had incorporated as a nonprofit organization. In 2010, there were 340 students statewide taking part. The number soared to 1,500 in 2012 and 6,100 in 2014.
This season, there were 268 teams and 8,600 participants, shooting at 165 ranges across the state. Hundreds of interested students were turned away, due to limited time and space at the local clubs. With the assistance of Sable and colleague John Nelson, neighbors Wisconsin and North Dakota have launched their own leagues. About 30 other states have inquired.
Early attempts to build interest, naturally, weren’t so easy.
“Kids, guns and schools: You could imagine the reaction of the crowd,” Nelson said.
They had many benefits to tout, though, including no reported injuries in any of their years of sanctioning the sport. Schools aren’t responsible for travel costs, since teams shoot at their local range and self-report scores online.
One-third of the participants hadn’t tried trap shooting before joining the school team. For about the same amount of kids, this is their only sport. If they own their own shotgun, the typical cost for team members per season is $230 for targets, ammunition and registration. All participants, of course, must already have a firearm safety license.
“We realized pretty quickly how we were solving problems providing extracurricular activities for kids. Budget cuts, staffing cuts, Title IX compliance, behavior issues, parent engagement, all these factors that the athletic directors in schools are dealing with,” Nelson said. “It’s difficult these days for a school to add an activity that’s not going to cost them money.”
As the participation has increased, so has the competition.
“The scores have definitely gotten better over the years. You really have to be on top of your game now,” said Ben Dietz, a senior-to-be at New Prague High School, whose dad helped foster his interest as a kid.
Dietz finished in the top 10 in the state for the regular season with an average of 24.1 hits on a 25-shot round. Also a hockey player, he has enjoyed the “more chill” change of pace as well as the practice for pheasant hunting.
Johnson, also a swimmer, has enjoyed the experience as well.
“In swimming we’re separate, but with trap shooting it’s all together, and the boys can literally shoot right alongside the girls, and occasionally we can beat them,” Johnson said with a laugh, “so that’s kind of fun.”