Ikes in Action: Virginia Chapter Aims For Youth Engagement
Reprinted with permission from Izaak Walton League of America/Outdoor America magazine
By: Andrew J. Peters, Alexandria Chapter
Several years ago, the Alexandria Chapter started looking into expanding our 5-stand shotgun range to include a certified trap range. Two chapter members were primarily responsible for bringing this idea to fruition: A.J. Pappas and Chris Arnold. While working toward the goal of completing the trap range, the chapter continued to offer members the opportunity to come out on Sundays, when volunteers operated the various throwers used by the 5-stand, and enjoy shooting a few clay targets. At the time, the chapter had two youth shotguns that were available to members who had children who were interested in experiencing clay target shooting. The use of the chapter guns along with support from Shotgun Committee members who were NRA-qualified shotgun instructors proved to be very popular. Parents felt comfortable and the environment was structured but not intimidating. Several young shooters became regulars with their parents at the Sunday recreational shoots.
About the same time A.J. and Chris were working on the trap range project, I was finding out that my 12-year-old granddaughter was really interested in shotgun sports. We had gone to a range on the military base close to our home and she was able to shoot both trap and skeet. As time went by, she found that she continued to improve and indicated that she would like to join a youth shooting team. (Shooting was great, but spending your day with middle-aged adults was a little dull – her words, not mine!).
I began to look around for youth teams in our area and quickly found that there were none. While doing this research, I noticed an advertisement for an outdoors sports show. One of the organizations that would be at the event was the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF). My granddaughter and I decided to visit the show booth, where we met Tom Wondrash, national director of SSSF’s Scholastic Clay Target Program.
The Scholastic Clay Target Program is an education-athletic organization that introduces youth to the shooting sports and facilitates their continued involvement by providing opportunities to safely and enjoyably participate and compete in high-quality, team-based shooting sports led by trained adult coaches. After talking with Tom, my granddaughter and I were sold on the program. We talked with our chapter’s Shotgun Committee chairman about sponsoring a youth team, and at the next chapter executive board meeting, he had me make a short presentation. The chapter enthusiastically agreed to sponsor a youth team.
After promoting the idea at chapter meetings and in our newsletter, the team – now known as the Stafford Clay Shooters – began practicing at the finished chapter trap range. When the trap range was certified by the Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA), the team decided to join ATA’s AIM (Academics, Integrity, Marksmanship) youth trapshooting program, which would allow the team to participate in youth-focused ATA events. In June 2016, our team participated in the Virginia AIM Youth Championship in Winchester and did a great job representing us!
Developing a youth trap team with the support of the Alexandria Chapter has been a rewarding experience. The chapter supports the team and provides a place for youth to practice. The Scholastic Clay Target Program provides basic structure for the team, including qualifications for adult coaches. Through the NRA Foundation, the Friends of the NRA has provided the team with clay targets, ammunition, and an additional youth shotgun. I mention the youth team when we introduce prospective new members to our chapter. I also get calls from parents who see our information on the Scholastic Clay Target Program and AIM websites, and many times these interested parents become chapter members.
I’m convinced there is no shortage of young men and women in 6th through 12th grades who are interested in shooting sports. The challenge in recruiting them is convincing their parents that it’s worth their time. Going to practice is one thing. Going to practice with your shotgun requires the constant support of an adult. The most important thing our shooters bring to the team is “attitude.” They are truly motivated and want to be there. The challenge in recruiting is convincing adults that this is something you can enjoy throughout your life. If a parent or grandparent enjoys the shooting sports, it’s a great way to establish a bond that will last a lifetime.