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Shooting down misconceptions  

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Parker Lanehart, 9, of Manchester takes aim at a target during a shooting program at the Brooklyn Sportsmans Club last week. Children ages 8 through high school are allowed to participate in youth shooting leagues across the country.

By Matt Schepeler

Youth trap shooting leagues are growing across the country, and officials in Brooklyn would like to see a team formed here.

John Calhoun of the Brooklyn Sportsmans Club said that members are hoping to get community buy-in for the prospect of creating a local team. He points out that Manchester’s Young Guns team, which has between 40 and 50 youth participating, is a clear indication that a team based in Brooklyn would do well.

“In fact, they are pulling from here,” said Calhoun, who helped organize a three-bird shoot for high school aged youth in Brooklyn last weekend.

Trap shooting is a letter sport in Manchester.

Youth trap shooting leagues are springing up across the country, and nowhere is the sport bigger than in Minnesota. In that state, roughly 8,600 high school students from 450 schools participated in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League last year, making it the second most popular high school sport in the state, according to Shooting Industry magazine.

Besides being the fastest-growing high school sport, league officials from Minnesota say it is the safest. There have been no reported injuries from the sport, and it is also worth pointing out that there have been no gun-free zone violations in Minnesota schools since 2001, according to a study conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health: Pediatric Injury Prevention, Education and Research.

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Payton Alexa has been trap shooting as part of a school activity for about a year. She hopes to eventually try out for the Olympics, and is being considered for college scholarships.

Shooting enthusiasts have long claimed that teaching gun safety and shooting basics to youth lends to a lifetime of safe shooting enjoyment. They also claim that youngsters who have been properly trained in firearm use are much less to be involved in a shooting accident or participate in risky behavior with a firearm.

Of course, safety comes first. Student athletes must earn a firearm safety certificate, wear protective eye and hearing gear, abide by strict policies and procedures, and every practice and event requires a coach or supervisor be on hand.

John Alexa of Manchester believes the importance of training children the correct way to handle and utilize firearms. An avid outdoorsman, he has taught each of his children the importance of safety consciousness when handling guns. In fact his daughter, Payton, a 15 year old who has been a part of the Manchester Young Guns team, hopes to go on and compete at higher levels.

“I love the sport,” said Payton. She said she feels little or no pressure to perform, but is clearly a good shot. Recently Payton and other members of the Young Gun’s team practiced at the Brooklyn Sportsman’s Club, which is a home course for them, and she had no problem turning clay targets into powder.

However, Calhoun said that despite the sports growing popularity and impressive safety records, there are obstacles that need to be overcome to get a team started here, the biggest being educating about the many misconceptions.

“The fact is that trap shooting is safe,” said Calhoun, an avid shooter himself. Calhoun and other club officials plan on approaching Columbia School District officials about the possibility of forming a team in the district. They intend to point out that youth trap shooting is growing across the country, including states like Illinois and North Dakota, that it is safe, that it can be done with little or no cost to the school and that it offers clean, fair competition.

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Inherent advantages of the sport are that no school facilities are needed, there are no bench warmers (everyone gets to participate), there is no limit to team size and, perhaps most importantly, it teaches children sportsmanship, gets them outdoors and helps them interact with other students outside of Facebook and Twitter.

It can also be a confidence builder, as Payton Alexa displayed while shooting and being interviewed. Teams are co-ed, and female shooters are finding success competing against their male counterparts. The gun, after all, is known as a great equalizer.

Calhoun noted that trap shooting can be expensive, but there are ways to minimize that, including getting local business sponsorship and other community tie-ins. He added that the cost to the school is minimal, if any.

“It teaches the kids responsibility,” said Kristi Lanehart of Manchester, whose two children participate in the sport. “It gets them outdoors doing something constructive that they can do for the rest of their lives.

“And it is definitely a confidence-builder,” she said.

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