The shots rang out, echoing across the field as the members of the St. Francis High School (SFHS) Trap Club practiced on a snowy Monday.
Even through they had to deal with the unseasonable cold and snow, the 35-member team did not let that deter them from their third practice of the new season, which started April 1.
What makes the trap club different “is you don’t have to be athletic … to participate in trap club,” said Coach Ken Sonnenfeld.
The shooters are scored as individuals as well as a team, he said.
Every Monday the team meets at the Minnetonka Game and Fish Club, located in western St. Francis, from 5 to 7 p.m.
While he is not a hunter, co-captain Max Sullivan has been shooting since he was in eighth grade, after a trip to the Metro Gun Club with his step-dad.
“Trap shooting is a unique activity,” said the East Bethel teen.
It is very different from other sporting events, said Sullivan, who has been part of the team for three years.
Sullivan said his favorite activity is seeing how many of the bright orange clay pigeons he can hit.
“It is fun for me,” he said.
Sullivan has an average of 22 to 23 out of 25 clay pigeons.
He tries to keep his mind clear, Sullivan said.
In addition to challenging himself, Sullivan likes the social aspect of the club.
Although the fourth season of the SFHS trap club started without four of its shooters, who graduated last spring, there are new many new faces on the team this year.
There are nine new members this year and the number of girls have increased from two to four, Sonnenfeld said.
Last year the team was limited to 32 members because of the size of the Minnetonka gun club, he said.
The facility has since expanded and that has allowed the team to expand, Sonnenfeld said.
According to Sonnenfeld, interest in trap shooting is growing throughout the state.
The Minnesota State High School Clay Target League had 57 teams last year with about 800 kids shooting, he said.
This year, there are 113 teams with 3,000 students, grades 6-12, Sonnenfeld said.
The SFHS club is limited to students in grades 9-12.
Next year Sonnenfeld would like to see 50 members on the team.
But that is as large as it will get, because of the facility and he wants to be able to spend time with each student, Sonnenfeld said.
Noah Hanson of St. Francis is one of the new kids on the team.
He is one of five or six friends that joined the club this year, said the ninth-grader.
While his first few averages hovered around 15 or 16, Hanson was not disappointed.
“The first day was rough, but you can do better every time,” he said.
The coaches are helping him improve his shooting with each practice, Hanson said.
His average for the second practice improved to 18-19 pigeons. During the third practice, Hanson was hoping to get his average up to 19-20 pigeons.
Although the weather has been cold, the one thing he continues to remind the kids is that it will only get better and it helps them focus, Sonnenfeld said.
Senior Kasondra Schrecongost tried out for volleyball and softball.
“It was not for me,” she said. “I needed something new.”
“It is a pretty fun sport and you really get to know people by end of the year.”
Schrecongost also participates in the East Bethel and St. Francis Ambassador pageants.
Plus it is great to get a higher score than the guy next to you, she said.
In truth, Schrecongost is pretty evenly matched with her male counterparts. Last year her average was 22-23 clay pigeons.
This year her goal is to earn an average in the 24-25 range, Schrecongost said.
Unlike other sports, the team members do not know how they are doing against other state teams because the scores are sent into the state league for tabulation and then posted online, said Sonnenfeld.
The scores from Monday’s (April 22) practice were the first to be sent to state target league this season.
The only time the students are in one place is for the state tournament in Alexandra in June, where 2,000 kids are expected to shoot this year, he said.
Although it is early in the season, the team on April 15 had to shoot their “rainy-day” scores in case one of the meeting days is rained out, Sonnenfeld said.
Unlike other school clubs, the trap shooting club has had to overcome a few hurdles when it started in 2009.
There were concerns about guns in the schools, said assistant coach Terry Sworsky.
After talking to coaches and principals from other schools with clubs, an agreement was made to have the kids and parents transport the guns to the gun range rather than have the guns on school grounds, he said.
After the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the club’s logo also came under fire.
It was a sensitive issue after the shootings, SFHS Principal Paul Neubauer said.
It was on everyone’s mind, but the image of a shooter targeting the clay pigeon was not an aggressive image, he said.
This group is very different from other sports, Sonnenfeld said.
It is another way for kids to be involved in something and the team is very safety conscious, he said.
Since 2009, the club has used 1.5 million shells and there have been no accidents or injuries, he said.
“Something other sports cannot say,” Sonnenfeld said.
While trap shooting has not be recognized as a sport by the Minnesota High School League (MSHSL), Sworsky is hopeful that will change.
According to the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League, trap shooting could be recognized in June 2014 by the MSHSL, he said.
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]