By Phil Bourjaily
At Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) competitions you see school buses loaded with kids in shooting gear arriving at the gun club. Some parents serve as coaches, while others watch student-athletes from folding chairs, just as they do at other youth sporting events. Spend even a little time observing an SCTP match and you'll see that these kids can really shoot.
This team-based shooting program continues to grow every year. Currently more than 13,000 student-athletes ranging from grade-schoolers to college seniors participate in SCTP, although most of the competitors are high school age. About a third of the students represent their schools, and many earn varsity letters in the process. Other teams, like the one I coach, have no specific school affiliation. They simply draw members from area schools that don't have teams of their own.
Competitions include trap, skeet, and sporting clays as well as international trap and skeet. American trap singles is overwhelmingly the most popular sport. One of the best aspects of SCTP is that no one gets cut from the team and no one rides the bench. Although the program runs year-round, the action heats up in most states in spring. State championships begin in June, and the national championship is held in July at the Cardinal Shooting Center in Ohio.
Students don't need to have prior target-shooting experience—or any shooting experience at all—in order to participate. They can get started by finding a team on the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF) website at sssfonline.org. If there's a shortage of teams in your area, you can organize one yourself, which is what I did nine years ago. The SSSF website will walk you through the entire process, from forming a team to scheduling competitions.
Starting a school-based club may be as simple as getting permission from an athletic director or as challenging as making a presentation in front of the school board. In either situation, it helps to be ready to counter preconceived notions about kids and guns. Adults will need firearms training, which is available through the National Rifle Association and many state wildlife agencies. In addition, the team will need to find a shooting club or facility where the students can hold practices and competitions.
Fundraising is vital to keeping costs low. Our high school shooting club, which is now registered as a nonprofit, is supported by membership dues, assorted fundraising activities, and donations from our host club, local businesses, service organizations, and conservation groups. We also draw support from an endowment set up by the MidwayUSA Foundation, which matches funds deposited into the trust it administers and allows SCTP teams to draw from it annually.
Ducks Unlimited supports the MidwayUSA Foundation Adopt-A-Team program, which allows DU chapters to partner with youth shooting teams. DU chapters and shooting teams sell tickets for a chance to win firearms. Proceeds generated from ticket sales are split evenly between Ducks Unlimited and the MidwayUSA Foundation Scholastic Shooting Trust Fund, with half the revenue going to support DU's conservation mission and the other half invested in a trust account that will perpetually endow a school's shooting program. The MidwayUSA Foundation also offers a 100 percent match of all funds deposited in a school's trust account.
Students don't need a dedicated target gun to get started in this shooting program. Any 12- or 20-gauge field gun will work just fine at the outset. Competitors can always trade up to a better model as their skills improve and their goals change. In terms of shotshells, my advice is to buy slower, lighter loads to minimize recoil.
Eye and ear protection are required, and neither need be expensive. Disposable foam earplugs, properly worn, are very effective. Basic $15 shooting glasses provide ample eye protection. Add a vest or waist pouch to hold ammunition, and a young shooter is ready to begin a journey that for some SCTP athletes has ended on an Olympic medal stand.