- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2015

Lindsay Martin first picked up a rifle to go deer hunting with her father, but it was an afternoon she spent with him a year later, shooting clay pigeons in her backyard, that set her passion for shooting sports.

The rising senior at Glen Allen High School in Virginia is now establishing herself as a competitive shooter with Olympic aspirations. Her own school doesn’t have a team, so she joined the Dusters, a trapshooting team at nearby Fort Lee. Her father is the coach, she is the only girl on the team, and she’s a rising star.

“People know me as the shotgun shooter,” the 17-year-old said.

She’s one of thousands of teens who have picked up the sport in recent years, making it one of the fastest-growing sports for high schools. But it’s also popular with community teams, such as the Dusters.

Tom Wondrash, national director of Scholastic Clay Target Program, a branch of the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF), thinks that the sport’s rapid growth is due to its inclusivity and opportunity for participation.

“What separates shooting sports from stick-and-ball sports is that when it’s time for our kids to go to a tournament, all the kids can compete — heavy, thin, tall, short, fast, slow, boy or girl — it doesn’t make them any different,” Mr. Wondrash said. “That’s what really lends itself to our sport.”

The SSSF has programs in 42 states and has seen participation grow from about 6,000 students four years ago to 13,000 now, Mr. Wondrash said.

Competitive shooting has become so popular and accepted in certain communities that some high schools award varsity letters for trapshooting. National organizations like the SSSF help students assemble teams, train coaches to teach athletes how to safely fire a gun and organize competitions and championships for teams.

Lindsay’s team, established through SSSF, has stayed about the same size, with 10 students, but she said she’s seen an increase in interest outside of school. She is a fan of women learning to shoot, and even teaches women how to fire a shotgun at her local gun range in Charles City County.

The USA State High School Clay Target League, another trapshooting youth organization, works slightly differently than SSSF. While SSSF encourages community-based organizations in addition to the school-recognized teams, the USA State High School Clay Target League ensures that all of their teams are incorporated into the school’s extracurricular offerings.

In the past eight years, they have seen their membership jump from 30 kids to almost 10,000. Some teams have as few as five athletes, and others have more than 80. The teams are coed, and students with physical disabilities are welcome. Teams only compete against other teams of similar sizes.

“It’s the safest high school sport,” John Nelson, the league’s vice president, said. “In 14 years we’ve never had an injury. None whatsoever. We’ve put more than 24,000 students through the program, pulled the trigger more than 12 million times, and never had an injury.”

The league is located in only three states — Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota — and is expanding to three more within the next year.

Lindsay specializes in trapshooting, which is shooting clay pigeons as they fly away from the shooter. The sport is a cousin of skeet shooting and sporting clays, similar events where the “birds” are flung from different directions.

Lindsay’s preferred gun is a Krieghoff K-80, which she uses for trap, skeet and sporting clays, switching out the barrels to change the gauge to fit the event.

Her father, Richard Martin, not only coaches the Dusters but is involved with the local 4-H club in Four Rivers, which has increased the number of young shooters on its team to accommodate the interest. He said other local 4-H clubs have waitlists of children eager to take up the sport.

“I didn’t actually compete prior to [Lindsay],” Mr. Martin said. “Once she started showing such a knack for it, such a natural ability, that’s when we got involved and started looking around.”

Considering the main athletic equipment for the sport is a gun, there has not been a lot of backlash to school-sponsored trapshooting from gun control advocates. For example, gun controls in Britain are so strict that its Olympic shooting team had to train for the 2012 London Olympics abroad, and the government had to grant a special waiver for the contest even to take place.

But Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said there’s nothing wrong with shooting clays.

“If a student in high school enjoys that activity, God bless them,” Mr. Everitt said. “That’s not something that’s of any concern to us. That’s supervised shooting, and that’s the way to do it — with adults in a supervised session.”

The reason people might oppose trapshooting is a lack of understanding about the sport and guns, Mr. Wondrash said.

The USA league prefers to have students go through their state’s firearms trainings, which are often hunting-oriented, to help them learn safety skills. SSSF doesn’t require students to go through their state’s firearms training.

“Probably upward of 50 percent of our athletes are not hunters, they’re just target shooters,” Mr. Wondrash said. “Just because they’re shooting a gun doesn’t mean they’re killing stuff. It’s a whole different world.”

Growth has been explosive in the last few years, and Mr. Nelson feels certain that it can be maintained.

“We expect we’ll double the number of states every year for the next few years because of mass interest in the league, its popularity with kids and families, and it’s a very affordable sport,” Mr. Nelson said.

Competitive shooting is also an Olympic sport, which is another reason that anti-gun activists probably do not oppose it, Mr. Wondrash said. The SSSF feeds into the United States Olympic shooting team, and the program has produced Olympic gold medalists.

“You’d think we would run into more [opposition], but the honest truth is not at all — very little, if any,” Mr. Wondrash said. “How can you argue with an Olympic sport? The kids have got to start somewhere, you know.”

Lindsay plans to attend a college that supports a competitive shooting team, and she hopes to qualify for the Olympic team. In order to begin preparations for qualifications, she will begin focusing on learning international skeet and bunker trap. But she is not alone — most of her friends are shooters too, and they all share the same dream.

“It’s always going to be a team thing,” Lindsay said. “When you’re on the field, it might feel like an individual thing, but when we shoot, we all shoot on the same squad. If someone misses, they might get down on themselves, and we have to pick them up. There’s so many people helping you that it makes it a team thing.”

• Anjali Shastry can be reached at ashastry@washingtontimes.com.

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