Going from zero-to-one is sometimes the most daunting task when you want to start a new hobby – especially if you don’t know where to begin, or how to get the information you need. Some of us get lucky, and we know a friend or family member who already is involved with a sport that we can rely on to point us in the right direction or connect us to a local team or organization. For others, it’s not so easy. In order to help, we’ve shared experiences in hopes of setting a course for the next generation of shotgun sports champions. Plus, find out what happened during our recent trips to the 2021 SCTP Nationals and AIM/ATA Grand American Championships.
SCTP & National Championships
The Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) has elementary through high school teams from all around the U.S. competing at the state levels. With the season concluding at the National Championships held at the Cardinal Shooting Center and Campground in Marengo, Ohio, student athletes competed to determine the champions in International Skeet, Bunker Trap, Sporting Clays, Trap and Skeet.
At the Nationals event, student athletes get to participate in a variety of events besides the shooting aspects – which included a designated “college day” where they can talk to college scouts in attendance, a pizza party and ice cream social, banquet and opening ceremonies. The Nationals event runs for about 11 days and took place this year on July 8 through 17. The official count showed that 3,629 student athletes competed in 10,113 event entries. The athletes brought along coaches, parents, siblings and other family members. Using the number of student athletes as a baseline for a rough guess, let’s say around 10,000 in attendance, making this one of the largest youth shooting sports National Championships.
At state levels, the events may be significantly smaller, but the competitions are equally as gratifying for shooters and teams all vying for the State Championship title. Due to the various “classes” of competition, newbies can feel comfortable competing in their class with others of a similar skillset, while more advanced shooters can compete with others within theirs. This classification process carries over to the Nationals as well.
Syren Onsite at the SCTP National Championships
Vendors at the Nationals are typically jam-packed with shooters looking to help athletes get to the next levels and reach their full potentials. Companies such as Caesar Guerini, Fabarm, and Syren USA set up in a vendor building fully stocked with demo guns for shooters to try out. Also, a Caesar Guerini gunsmith stands at the ready to service shotguns or help with fittings. Factory representatives also are on-hand to assist shooters with questions and help direct those who may be ready to purchase to nearby dealers who were spread throughout the complex. Vendors also included apparel, eyewear, hearing protection vendors and food.
And because the Cardinal Center also serves as a campground, it does double duty with RVs as far as you can see, lined up with teams who work hard, but enjoy the evenings with a bit of team bonding after the day’s competition is over. In the evenings, as you drive out of the complex, you may see teams sitting around a campfire enjoying a meal, or a pickup football game in nearby open fields. You’ll see kids taking selfies next to their state flags for their social media.
It’s a time when teams and student athletes from around the country congregate and connect. But make no mistake about it, come the follow day, it’s game faces and go time. Every team wants that coveted trophy of being named the National Champs.
Many of the shooters not only compete for team trophies, but also celebrate with individual accomplishments such as shooting 25, 50, or 100 straights – and even the ever elusive 200 straight! This is when a shooter crushes the corresponding number of targets in consecutive order. Caesar Guerini, Fabarm and Syren USA award shooters who earned these accomplishments with a special Shooting Patch they can put on their vests and a certificate that certifies their achievement with the shooter’s name. It has become a point of pride among shooters who compete to see who can earn their next milestone, and work toward the special Gold 200 patch.
AIM stands for Academics Integrity and Marksmanship. It’s a program that is part of a larger organization called ATA (Amateur Trap Shooting Association). AIM is specifically for the elementary through college age trapshooting youth.
AIM holds state level championships throughout the year, with the culmination of the season being the National Championships held at the World Shooting Complex in Sparta, Illinois. The 2021 AIM Grand American Championships had 1,652 registered shooters representing 32 states. It also happens to coincide with the ATA Grand American Championships, which is the adult Nationals proceeding the AIM (3,107 registered shooters), and the combined events are referred to as “The Grand.” This event has become one of the most significant yearly revenue sources for the area of Sparta. Driving into the area, it’s hard to miss the vinyl banners at local shops and dining establishments that read “Welcome Grand American Athletes.”
The World Shooting Complex has a sprawling facility of 1,600 acres with a massive line of 30 Trap stations, a full Sporting Clays course, 3-D Archery range, on-site restaurant, lobby and office spaces, and the ATA Trap Shooting Hall of Fame building. If you’re a fan of history and the sport of Trap shooting, you’ll enjoy the Hall of Fame. There’s a collection of targets showing the evolution from glass balls from the Annie Oakley days through to the modern age of those pesky orange discs that shooters yearn to turn into dust. It’s like looking at the evolution of a bullet, seeing the many shapes and materials and designs through the years. Same with the target launchers, some of the early engineering is fascinating to see. If you ever get a chance, it’s worth the visit and its free admission.
Both the AIM and the SCTP are loaded with vendors on hand. Perhaps in this category however, the Grand has a slight advantage since the ATA Grand overlaps with the AIM Grand and the full range of the combined events lasts a full Two weeks (actually 16 days to be exact) with the AIM going this year from July 30 through August 3 and the ATA Grand picking up on August 4 and running through August 14. Combined, the event hosted 4,759 registered Trap shooters in 2021. These numbers tend to attract the vendors and some shotgun manufacturers will have teams on-site for servicing their customers. Caesar Guerini, Fabarm and Syren USA have two dedicated gunsmiths attending the Grand with service done on a first-come, first-served basis.
USA Clay Target League
USA Clay Target League is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the independent provider of shooting sports as an extracurricular co-ed and adaptive activity for secondary and post-secondary schools nationwide. The organization’s priorities are safety, fun and marksmanship – in that order.
The organization started out in 2000 as the USA High School Clay Target league, based out of Minnesota, and expanded to 45,000 student athletes representing more than 1,200 school-approved teams. The organization has since expanded into the USA College Clay Target league and most recently the USA Homeschool Clay Target league.
Like the other organizations listed, the USA Clay Target League has state level competitions as well as a National Championships and offers regional competitions during the season between area schools.
National 4-H Shooting Sports
4-H’s website says it is America’s largest youth development organization – empowering nearly six million young people with the skills to lead for a lifetime. The 4-H organization spans thousands of different programs including STEM, Music, Agriculture and Ag Science, and yes, Shooting Sports is in there somewhere. Just don’t go looking for it on the main 4-H website or you’ll have a hard time finding it. Instead, try this one, which lists opportunities in each state to connect with volunteers and members.
The site states Local 4-H Shooting Sports clubs are open to all youth ages 8 to 18, and that the 4-H teaches shooting sport to 500,000 boys and girls each year.
Travis Mears, a well-known Caesar Guerini and Fabarm pro-staff member and exhibition shooter often cites his early years in 4-H and SCTP youth shooting as how he got into shotgunning and competitions. Since starting at the young age of 9 years old, Travis followed his passion. In fact, Travis was a three-time Texas State 4-H Higher Overall Champion and two-time Silver Medalist in Doubles Trap at the Junior Olympics. His passion for shotgun sports led Travis to Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, as a scholarship shooter. While at Lindenwood, Travis took part in five National Team Championships, 12 Individual Collegiate National Championships and completed his undergrad and MBA.
If someone were to ask Travis this question, “Can the shooting sports really take you anywhere in life?” – without a doubt, his response would be a resounding, “Yes!”
Competing in College
Just like in any sport, young athletes aspire to reach that ‘next level’ and for many athletes who wish to continue their passion for the shooting sports after high school while furthering their educations, that next step is to compete in the collegiate ranks.
Shooting Sports (Shotgun/Skeet/Trap/FITASC/Clay Target) is currently not an official sport of either the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA. According to Scholarship Stats, “The primary governing bodies for intercollegiate shooting are the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) and the Scholastic Action Shooting Program (SASP) which are operated by the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation.”
According to College Xpress the list of colleges with strength in Skeet and Trap include Division I powerhouses and Ivy league Universities, among others. Names that may ring a bell on that list include the following institutions of higher education: Yale University, Texas A&M, Duke University, Purdue University, Kansas State University, Iowa State, Colorado State, just to name a few. Here’s a complete list at the site.
ACUI Clay Targets Program
ACUI Clay Targets Program is another program for collegiate competition within the Shotgun Sports. “The ACUI Clay Targets program strives to produce efficient, fun, and friendly competitions for collegiate student athletes.”
According to its website, the ACUI Clay Targets program was established in 1968 and is the oldest collegiate shotgun sports program. The ACUI itself was founded in 1914. Both are listed as nonprofit educational organizations that bring together colleges and universities for the betterment of student competitions and interests. “The ACUI Clay Targets program does not require membership for participation in events. We welcome everything from individual student athletes to teams of 20+ to attend any of our events, as long as eligibility requirements are met.”
What are those requirements you may ask?
- All participants must meet eligibility criteria established by their school. (This is separate to the ACUI requirements.)
- All participants are limited to six years of eligibility. Students enrolled at two-year institutions are limited to three years of eligibility; if they transfer to a four-year school, six years total.
- All undergraduate and graduate student participants must be in good academic standing with their institutions in the academic term in which they qualified for the program.
- All participants must be enrolled as of the academic term in which they qualified for the program for at least nine credit hours (six credits for graduate students) and must complete six credit hours between all program appearances. Seniors who will be graduating at the end of the academic term, may be considered full-time if they are taking all hours needed to complete their degree.
- All undergraduate and graduate student participants must be enrolled as a student in good conduct standing at the institution they represent, as determined by the institution in which they are currently enrolled.
- For participation in championship-level competitions, certification of eligibility must be made by an advisor or authorized staff member of the school. All participants in international-level competitions are required to provide registrar’s seal and signature.
There are other Code of Conduct Expectations as well … but we’ll spare you the heavy reading. If you’d like to see the full rundown of requirements and eligibility check out the Eligibility and Code of Conduct Form.
For those aspiring to hoist the gold for the USA in Olympic competition, USA Shooting is a 501 non-profit corporation chartered by the United State Olympic Committee as the National Governing Body for the sport of shooting. USA Shooting’s mission is to prepare American athletes to win Olympic medals, promote the shooting sports throughout the U.S., and govern the conduct of international shooting in the country. In the Shotgun Sports there is Trap & Skeet.
USA Shooting is headquartered at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center (USOPTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Shooting Center is the largest indoor shooting facility in the Western Hemisphere and the third largest in the world.
The road to Olympic dreams for young shooters first starts at the National Junior Olympic program, that hosts competitions year-round and throughout the country. Junior shooters compete in state qualifier competitions sanctioned by USA Shooting for a chance to be invited to shoot at the National Junior Olympic Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The National Junior Olympics acts as a development program and a pipeline for aspirating young shooters and provides national competitive experience with appointment of top shooters to the National Junior Team.
Final Thoughts on Youth Shotgun Shooting Sports
No matter where aspiring young shooters want to set their sights – albeit future Olympians, or competing with their high school varsity squads – the shotgun sports offer plenty of options. What sets shotgun sports aside from other types of sports is that no matter your physical abilities, shooters are defined by their marksmanship and not their height, weight, physique, sex, or mile time. The shotgun sports offers an even playing field where everyone has an opportunity to shine. Like anything else, practice and patience, hard work and dedication will help you to get far. The next gold medalist or National Champion is out there somewhere, and who knows, it might just be you!