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Elmwood clay target team reaps benefits

The Elmwood clay target team is currently the top team of the Wisconsin State High School League's Class 1A Conference 3 by over 100 points. The program is only four years old, but it's found just as much success, if not more, than Elmwood's other high school sports teams. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia

Some kids pick up basketballs, baseballs or footballs at a young age and pursue athletic careers as soon as they're old enough to join their first youth league. Other youngsters, such as those on the Elmwood clay target team, choose guns over balls.

Most members of Elmwood's clay target team began shooting when they still had to look up to see the barrels of their guns that stood taller than them. Now they've been able to put their shooting talents to use thanks to the inception of Elmwood's team in 2014.

The program may only be four years old, but the clay target team is Elmwood's most successful group so far this season. The target shooters, whose ages range from 12-18, are currently the leaders of Conference 3 in Class 1A of the Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League. Elmwood currently tops Mondovi High School by 146 points in the conference standings after four weeks of competition.

The Elmwood shooters gather every Monday at the Elmwood Rod and Gun Club where they record their weekly scores by shooting two rounds of 25 shots to total up a score based off of 50 shots. Luke Webb is the second-best shooter in the conference after four week of competition and averages a score of 21.5 targets per round. Brett Kitchner is currently seeded fifth in the conference with an average of 20.88 targets.

Clay target shooting may not always be recognized as an athletic activity, but the Elmwood shooters are happy to correct anyone who claims their chosen sport doesn't stack up against the more popular basketball, baseball or football options.

"If they do clay shooting in the Olympics, it's a sport," Jackson Klink, a junior on the team said.

Like other sports, clay target shooting requires commitment, patience, hand-eye coordination, repetition, and comes along with an adrenaline-like thrill. According to Brett Kitchner, the thrill of shooting guns is what draws him to the sport that allows him to be a part of a school activity.

Kevin Kitchner, head coach of the Elmwood target shooters, compares target shooting to wrestling. "It's an individual sport, but it takes a team effort," Kitchner said referring to how his athletes shoot individually, but they're scored and ranked as a team. "I think it fits in this community where hunting is very big in the area."

Kitcher said he enjoys teaching his young shooters, but that target shooting doesn't allow for quite as much coaching as other sports. "The kids have to want it," Kitchner said. "We can give them pointers here and there, but they've got to want to listen."

Scott Hanson, a volunteer coach of the Elmwood team, agrees. Hanson has been involved in target shooting for 25 years and has studied the sport for many years, but tries to keep his tips for those he coaches at a minimum. "This game is a game of trust," Hanson said. "You've got to trust that gun you're shooting. It's got to be an instinct thing."

If Kitchner and Hanson get too technical in their teachings, their athletes will become too preoccupied with where they need to make improvements and lose their mental concentration. While shooting a gun, there's no room for distractions.

"This sport creates concentration and responsibility," Hanson said. "They're learning something that they can take with them when they're way older than me."

Kitchner and Hanson's team is held to academic standards as clay target athletes. All athletes must be passing in their classes in order to participate every Monday. This requirement isn't enforced by the WSHSCTL, but Kitchner wants his athletes to abide by all rules that other Elmwood athletes are held to. If the clay target shooters are able to stay academically eligible and average 20 targets or better, they can earn a varsity letter for their chosen sport.

The target shooters have learned how to improve their individual skills as well as put their team first, while never having to worry about getting benched due to poor performances.

"Safety is first, fun is second and marksmanship is third," Kitchner said. "As long as they're staying safe and having fun, I'll stay out here as long as they want to shoot."