FREDONIA, Wis. — By the calendar, spring was mere days away.
But the March evening dished up a decidedly wintry mix of snowflakes and temperatures in the teens. It’s the type of preseason training conditions that can be especially challenging for spring sports in the Midwest.
It was not enough to deter the members of the Ozaukee Youth Trap League, however. The parking lot at the Ozaukee Fish & Game Association was near capacity at 6:30 p.m. as students, coaches and parents met for practice.
“Love the enthusiasm and the dedication,” said head coach Scott Yanke.
Yanke dished out instructions for the 80 middle and high school students who make up the 2013 team.
The students were separated into groups based on trap shooting experience. Everyone would shoot at least one round of trap outdoors.
And some also would shoot a round on an innovative indoor simulator called “DryFire.” The Ozaukee Youth Trap League purchased the system this winter and it is the first club to own the system in the state, according to Yanke.
The room buzzed with excitement as the students and coaches headed off in squads for the evening’s practice.
“We focus so much on getting things ready, it’s rewarding to see the turnout,” said Carrie Scheel, president of the youth club.
The club is composed of students from middle and high schools around Ozaukee County.
Scheel founded the club five years ago. Her son, Kenton, had suffered a back injury and was advised not to participate in contact sports.
So Scheel, a professor of occupational therapy, investigated other options. She learned several high schools in southeastern Wisconsin were participating in the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP).
Though she wasn’t a shooter, Scheel said she was aware of the discipline, responsibility and self-confidence that can be acquired through the shooting sports.
So she helped gather a group of coaches and gained permission from Ozaukee Fish & Game Association to its trap fields.
The first year the Ozaukee youth club had five shooters, including Kenton.
This year they had to cap participation at 80.
“The Kewaskum coach told us to get ready to grow,” Scheel said. “Boy, was he right.”
Like several dozen other Wisconsin teams, the Ozaukee club was preparing for the 2013 Scholastic Clay Target Program trap shooting season. And if everything goes well, it might also send some students to the SCTP national championship in Sparta, Ill.
Every four years, Americans get reminded that trap shooting is an Olympic sport. In 2012, U.S. Olympians Kim Rhode and Vincent Hancock won gold medals in the London Games.
But most aren’t aware of the growth of the sport at the youth level.
The Kettle Moraine conference has grown from five teams to 15 this year. Nearby, the Southeastern Wisconsin conference includes 13 trap shooting teams from Milwaukee, Jefferson, Kenosha, Racine, Walworth and Waukesha counties.
The SCTP was started in 2000 by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and is now governed by the nonprofit Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc.
According to its mission statement, the SCTP “is a youth development program that teaches the safe handling of firearms while at the same time developing positive life skills through the shotgun clay target sports.”
Over the last decade, the program has spread from a handful of states to 44. The Midwest region comprises 60 percent of national SCTP participation.
Wondrash said the program goals are to increase participation nationwide to more than 10,000 this year and to 20,000 “in just the next couple years.”
The Ozaukee club is a case study for the popularity of the program.
The club strives to “allow youth shooters to safely and responsibly participate in shooting sports.”
Scheel said trap shooting helps the students develop to their potential both within and outside of the shooting sports.
“And what’s more, we know that trap shooting can be shared with family and friends for a lifetime,” Scheel said.
Scheel’s son Kenton is now 17 and a high school senior. He developed his proficiency over the last four years and was “top gun” of the club last year.
This year, he’s opted to be an assistant coach on the team.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is I really like helping others learn,” Kenton said. “So this season that’s where I’m putting my focus.”
The club has 14 coaches in all. At the recent practice, most coaches worked with squads nonstop for two hours as snow swirled over the five outdoor trap fields.
Kenton wore the bright vest of a range safety officer as he made sure the shooters exercised proper firearm safety principles.
What made the practice especially unique was the setting of one of the firing lines: inside the clubhouse.
Five youth shooters faced a projector screen on a wall. One by one, they called “pull” and a red disc of light moved across the simulated trap field.
The shooter raised his or her shotgun, pulled the trigger and . . .
“No recoil,” said high school shooter Wade Dishaw. “I flinched on the first one.”
The DryFire system uses infrared light and a computer algorithm to simulate trap shooting.
Not only does it allow practice indoors year-round and without the expense of shells, but it utilizes the shooter’s firearm.
A light-emitting piece is placed in the muzzle of the shotgun and a small button is added to the trigger.
The rest is handled by the computer. After a round, the DryFire system prints out a report showing the results of each shot, including the location of the center of the shot cone relative to the target.
“We are only scratching the surface of what it can do,” said assistant coach Rick Leach.
For advanced shooters, the system can be programmed to throw targets faster or require near direct hits.
So far, the system has been especially beneficial to beginning shooters, Scheel said.
“It helps build muscle memory and teach fundamentals like swinging through the target,” Scheel said. “It’s been a hit.”
Judging from its growth over the last five years, so too has the youth trap shooting team she helped form.
Distributed by MCT Information Services