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Interscholastic trap shooting is taking off, and it’s Sac-Joaquin Section school’s leading the charge.   By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor   With increased...

Interscholastic trap shooting is taking off, and it’s Sac-Joaquin Section school’s leading the charge.

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

  With increased specialization and dedication to established sports such as football, baseball/softball, basketball, and soccer, it is difficult for newer sports to find room on the high school sports schedule and busy social calendar of teenagers.

  But one young sport is shooting to the top of the list of the fastest-growing sports in Northern California.

  Trap shooting is doing so both figuratively and literally as student-athletes are increasingly hitting the range at local shooting clubs to hone their craft and compete against students of rival high schools.

  “Trap shooting gives who that don’t play other sports a unique opportunity to participate in athletics for their school,” said Kim Lewis, who coaches the Granite Bay High School trap team along with her husband, Gary. “The girls and boys are on a level playing field and there is no bench. Everyone shoots.”

  The number of participants is steadily growing as evidenced by the dramatic increase of youth shooters in the California Youth Shooting Sports Association (CYSSA). The organization, formerly the California Scholastic Clay Target Program started in 2001 with just five kids, is nearing 1,000 members shooting for nearly 40 teams in Northern and Central California, including 19 high schools that had full teams during the 2013 spring season.

  The majority of high schools with teams that compete in CYSSA tournaments are from the Sac-Joaquin Section, including established programs at Woodcreek and Del Oro. Granite Bay is a newer program, heading into its fifth season in 2014, but every program is seeing growth regardless of how long it has been around.

  “The sport is definitely growing fast,” said Clay Thomas, who will be the Del Oro team president as a senior this year. “We had just 20 shooters four years ago, and we keep getting more people coming out.”

  Del Oro coach Fred Jenson has nearly as many kids in his program now as he used to see in entire tournaments when he began coaching at 

  the Loomis school eight years ago. The Golden Eagles’ trap shooting team began when Shane Brammer started it as his senior project in the 2006-2007 school year with a few buddies wanting to shoot competitively. Now, Del Oro attracts a diverse group of interested students seeking a different sport.

  While some of the high school students joining the trap shooting team have experience with firearms through hunting with family members or shooting BB guns and air rifles for sport, Jenson says that a large number of interested participants have never handled a firearm or ever done trap shooting.

  Regardless of experience with firearms, every participant is held to the same high standards of gun safety. Before any student-athlete ever approaches the trap range with a shotgun, extensive safety training is required. Coaches emphasize safety over everything else, with many programs requiring parents to complete a safety training course with their children before participation is allowed.

  “Safety is the No. 1 rule because you can have no accidents when it comes to shooting a shotgun,” Granite Bay senior Dakota Burley said.

  Potential shooters must learn the 10 rules of safe gun handling before participating, and they are expected to have them memorized and followed at all times with the penalty being disqualification from a tournament or even from the team.

  “The focus is always on safety,” Granite Bay senior Chandler Dale said. “There is zero tolerance for goofing off anytime, whether it is at practice or otherwise.”

  Coaches and participants alike are asked to take full responsibility for correcting and/or reporting any safety violations at practices and tournaments regardless of who is committing the infraction. Everyone involved in the sport is working toward changing the often negative connotation or assumptions of young men and women with guns. 

  “Shooting and guns get such a bad rap, so it is nice to be able to show people that we have good gun owners who are young and responsible,” Thomas said.

  Not only are the local shooters responsible, they proved this past season that they are among the top shots in the state of California. Taylor and graduating senior Malcolm Dougherty helped lead Del Oro to a first-place finish at the CYSSA State Trap Championship in Division I. The Golden Eagles edged Woodcreek while Granite Bay finished third in the varsity competition. The next month, Granite Bay claimed the U.S. Open varsity title in Las Vegas with Del Oro finishing third behind Woodcreek. 

  The CYSSA has three separate divisions for competition at the varsity and JV level based on school enrollment. In Division II, Sonora claimed the state championship by edging De La Salle-Concord at both levels while Colfax’s young program is working to catch more established programs such as Summerville and Sutter Union in Division III.

  The big three trap shooting programs — Del Oro, Granite Bay, and Woodcreek — all reside in the Sierra Foothill League when it comes to traditional sports such as football, baseball, and basketball, so the natural rivalry has carried over well to the trap range. While the competition is just as fierce, coaches and shooters alike believe their rivalry has a different feel from the other sports.

  “It’s not like football or other sports in regards to the intensity of the rivalry,” Jenson said. “We take jabs at each other and talk a lot, but it is all in fun. We spend so much time together that we don’t want any bad blood between teams or shooters.”

  Jenson and Lewis agreed the camaraderie between the shooters always outweighs any hard feelings over winning and losing. Teams often share post-tournament food and good-natured trash talk.

  “It’s always good to beat (Del Oro) in any sport,” said Burley, who also plays linebacker for the defending SFL and State Division I football champions. “I always have fun going up against them and we are all friends at the range, but you still never want to lose to your rivals.”

  Burley received a fair share of grief and disbelief from his football coaches and teammates when he notified them that he would miss Granite Bay’s senior football retreat in Santa Cruz to compete in Las Vegas. He believes that if some of his football brethren went out to the trap range for a tournament, they might have been a little easier on him and perhaps appreciated his “fringe sport” more.

  “People don’t understand the level of competition until they go out and see a tournament,” Burley said.

  Thomas pointed out the similarities of trap shooting with mainstream sports, with an equal emphasis on physical and mental strength to win.

  “There is both physical and mental fatigue during a tournament, but obviously it’s not the same as football,” he said. “Your arms can get tired toward the end of a round or tournament, but you’ve just got to concentrate and fight through it.”

  “Trap shooting is mostly a mental game,” Taylor added. “You have to be focused on your shooting and your targets. You can’t let a few misses get to your head or you will not have a chance to succeed.”

  Taylor and his fellow competitors, coaches, and shooting enthusiasts are hopeful that their young sport can gain even more traction and continue to grow while establishing trap shooting as a respected high school sport on level with football, baseball/softball, basketball, and soccer.

  At the very least, they will give it their very best shot.

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