Column: Youth shooting program provided

Published 5:36 pm Thursday, August 18, 2005

By Staff
Speaking from experience, I can attest that participating in team activities, especially those involving competition or achieving goals, is one of the most effective character builders available to young people. Such things as school sports, band, 4H and scouting provide our youths with alternatives to hanging out on downtown street corners. It's the kids that haven't found something of interest, something to stir their passion, that are most likely to travel down a bad path. Only a comparatively few kids are interested in, and capable of, playing football, basketball or the trombone or raise and show a 4H animal or go camping with the scouts. However, I've yet to see a kid that wasn't fascinated with shooting. Given the opportunity, many youngsters would love to give shooting a try. The problem is most never get the chance.
Dr. Jim Wierman of Dowagiac aims to rectify that problem. There is a relatively new shotgun shooting program called the Scholastic Clay Target Program (S.C.T.P.) that is sweeping the country by storm. Dr. Wierman has the ball rolling to bring the S.C.T.P. to our area youths. The Program is a cooperative effort between the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Amateur Trapshooting Association, the National Skeet Shooting Association and the National Sporting Clays Association, all highly renowned organizations dedicated to supporting the shooting sports. In just a few years S.C.T.P. teams have sprouted up all across the nation encompassing some forty states and involving over six thousand students. According to Zach Snow, the program coordinator, "Success continues to skyrocket. Over the past year participation grew nearly 200 percent."
In addition to the obvious teaching of safe gun handling and shooting skills, the program strives to instill commitment, responsibility, leadership and teamwork. While many of the S.C.T.P. teams function as a school activity, S.C.T.P. advisors felt that since the Dowagiac Conservation Club already has a first class shooting facility and certified firearm safety instructors it would be better to at least start under their auspices.
The full blown Program is designed to accommodate boys and girls from elementary school all the way through high school. Dr. Wierman plans to start with the high school level and expand to other age groups as the program becomes better grounded. Each squad of five shooters will have a trained adult leader overseeing them at all times (including my son, Craig, who himself has several state and national shotgun titles. Sorry Craig, I had to exercise bragging rights). Informal competitions will likely be held with other S.C.T.P. teams with the grand events being competing at the Michigan State Trap Championship and possibly the National Trap Championship. Can kids effectively compete with adults at this level? Considering that sixteen year old S.C.T.P. shooter Vincent Hancock just won the Men's World Skeet Championship in Lonato, Italy, I'd say so.
Surely for some parents, the thought of kids with shotguns brings on visions of mass carnage. Studies have shown time and again that organized shooting is one of the safest sports on the planet. It doesn't even blip a measurable percentage on the sports injury list. If you really want to see carnage, look at football and bicycle riding. The other big concern is cost. S.C.T.P. may provide targets, ammunition and eye and ear protection for some start-up period. In the meantime, a number of us will be seeking more long term financial support. Guns will be the responsibility of the individuals. Suitable shotguns are available in the $300 – $400 range, especially if bought used. That's typically less than a school band member shells out for a saxophone or a golf team member pays for a set of clubs. Healthy discounts are also offered by the multitude of manufacturers supporting the Scholastic Clay Target Program.
If you're a high school student, boy or girl from anywhere in the area, and would like to hear more, a participant meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m., Oct. 11 at the Dowagiac Conservation Club. Ya' gotta bring mom or pop along. If you're an adult interested in lending a hand, a volunteer meeting is scheduled at the club, 7 p.m., Oct. 4. Carpe diem.