When you consider high school sports in the spring, you might imagine the crack of the bat, or the sound of a driver making solid contact with a golf ball. A sound you wouldn't normally associate with high school sports is that of gunshots.
High schools and gunshots: too often associated with terrible news of school shootings. Now, though, almost two dozen Michigan high schools are fielding teams in the Michigan State High School Clay Target League.
The league is in its second year in Michigan, and it has grown from seven teams and fewer than 100 students to 23 schools and almost 500 competitors.
Jamie Bartley coaches the Olivet team. His team meets twice a week for practice and competitions. On the range, Bartley says safety and good grades are his top priorities. "This is also a varsity lettered sport," he explains, "so that's another thing these kids can look forward to."
Olivet High School offers three club sports, meaning they’re approved as an extracurricular activity but receive no financial support: equestrian, bowling, and clay target shooting. The district’s school board approved the clay target shooting team on a 7-nothing vote when presented with the idea. Olivet accepts eighth through 12th graders on the team, but the league allows kids as young as the sixth grade.
Athletic Director Matt Seidl says he hasn’t received a single negative response from parents about offering a sport that involves guns.
One factor that helps hold costs down for the district and for families is the lack of travel. Competitions with other schools are conducted virtually. Each shooter gets five shots at each of five stations, and scores are compared with those reported by their opponents. Coach Bartley has some talented shooters. Levi Krauss is a 17-year-old senior at Olivet who has recorded perfect scoree.
Another appeal of this sport is that it’s co-ed. Tenth grader Kyan Hiatt, age 15, has been hunting deer and turkeys for a couple of years before joining the team. "I like shooting guns," she says, "and I like the people involved with it. They're very encouraging."
Along with being co-ed, the sport can also include students who have physical problems that prevent competing in other sports, including those who use wheelchairs.
The USA High School Clay Target League is based in Minnesota, where competition started in 2008 with three teams and 30 kids. Vice president John Nelson says the league has expanded to 15 states. This year, there are more than 600 teams, with 16,700 participants around the country. Despite that growth, Nelson says some school districts have resisted the idea of fielding a sport where guns are used.
There would seem to be room for the sport to grow in Michigan. All 23 teams in Michigan are in the lower peninsula. Considering the popularity of hunting in upper Michigan and the U.P., it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more schools fielding clay target league teams in the future.
While the teams in Michigan don’t travel to compete, they will get together at the end of the season. There’s a state tournament at the Michigan Trap Shooting Association grounds in Mason on June 17th. Spectators are welcome.