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Claybreakers' skills and sport validated at first Nationals competition

Ellsworth Claybreakers (from left to right) Kodi Bull, Gage Johnson, Sawyer Hamilton, Gage Trebil and Caleb Linder placed 94th out of 400 teams at the inaugural USA High School Clay Target League National Championship on Friday, July 13. Photo courtesy of Gage Trebil1 / 3
The Claybreakers' Gage Trebil finished in 135th place at the first-ever National USA High School Clay Target League competition by shooting a score of 192-out-of-200. Photo courtesy of Gage Trebil2 / 3
Caleb Linder, a 2018 graduate of Ellsworth High School, placed 736th at the USA High School Clay Target League National Championship on Saturday, July 14. Photo courtesy of Gage Trebil3 / 3

At the start of 2018, Gage Trebil was calculating what it would take to compete in the inaugural USA High School Clay Target League's National Championship.

Three years prior, Trebil was a freshman member of the then new Ellsworth Claybreakers team who was just happy to have an opportunity to use his trapshooting talents as a way to get involved.

Many shattered clay targets later, Trebil has now made his mark on the USAHSCTL by placing 135th nationally at the competition he never dreamed he'd have the opportunity to attend.

"I didn't think I'd ever be able to compete against kids from around the nation let alone shoot a 21 average," Trebil said.

As his senior season of clay target shooting approached in January, the Claybreakers veteran set his sights on qualifying for the unimaginable competition held in Mason, Mich., which was no small task.

"You have to have a lot of mental toughness and you have to be a great shooter to do it," Trebil said on maintaining a qualifying 21 average over the course of the season. "I'll be honest, there was a lot of stressing out about maintaining the score, but it was only possible because I shot twice a week. All of the coaches and volunteers at the trap club put their input in on different shooting styles and helped me develop."

As Trebil has developed from a guinea pig freshman to a senior sharpshooter, his beloved sport has also flourished nationwide. Only 800 teams competed in the USAHSCTL when Trebil, Caleb Linder and Zach Nugent joined the Claybreakers as eager freshmen in 2015. Now, more than 2,500 teams participate in nation's fastest-growing sport.

"So many kids in this area hunt and fish, and this is a way for them to participate in a sport that involves being outdoors," coach Denton Achenbach, who started the Claybreakers team with Barry Cain, said. "It's awesome that we were able to have Nationals already, and I think that (Nationals) paves the way for trapshooting to grow as a sport."

Aside from being a great opportunity for his Ellsworth athletes to meet kids from all over the country, Achenbach added that the newly added national competition validates the sport of clay target shooting and shows that it's worthwhile.

Trebil would agree with Achenbach after his numerous hours at the Ellsworth Rod and Gun Club paid off for a score of 99-out-of-100 on the first day of his individual national competition on Saturday, July 14. Trebil went on to shoot a 94 on the final day of competition, Sunday, July 15, ending his career as the nation's 135th-best shooter.

"I'm really proud of him," Achenbach said. "Shooting 99 out of 100 is no easy thing to do. It's a great accomplishment and he did it without a very good gun. Most of the kids who are shooting as well as Gage have very expensive, modern guns that give them a great advantage."

Trebil shot with a 1970s Browning A5, which he had been tuning up all season long.

Trebil was joined by Linder whose season score allowed him to qualify for Saturday's individual competition in which he shot a 90 for a 736th-place finish.

Kodi Bull, Gage Johnson and Sawyer Hamilton joined their senior teammates on Friday, July 13, for the team competition where the Claybreakers shot an impressive 444 out of 500 for a 94th-place national finish out of 400 teams.

Though shooting on a new course was initially intimidating and brought on nerves stemmed from unfamiliarity, Trebil and his teammates were simply honored to be surrounded by thousands of athletes who care about their sport as much as they do.

"Just walking around, you could see how competitive everyone was and how seriously they took it," Trebil said. "That part of Nationals was great — seeing how into the sport everybody else was."

Though their dedication to their sport earned them a chance to compete in Michigan, Trebil and his teammates know their 10-hour trip would not have been possible without the team's ongoing support.

"I was just happy that I got to be in awe of Nationals," Trebil said. "Without the Claybreakers, without the coaches, without the volunteers, without the sponsors, we wouldn't have been able to have gone to Nationals. It's amazing that us kids were able to compete in something like this and I was just really happy to be a part of it."

The Claybreakers are completely funded and supported by local businesses and volunteers such as Achenbach, Cain and Pat Linder, along with parents and siblings who know how important the team is to the Ellsworth community.

"I wish they had this sport when I was a kid," Pat Linder said. "Everyone I talk to, especially the people my age, says this sport would have been awesome to have."

Though the Wisconsin High School State Clay Target League is only open to sixth-12th graders, if Achenbach's plans are supported, Pat Linder and those who missed out on participating in high school will still have many opportunities to be involved with the Claybreakers.

" I would like it to become something families can participate in together," Achenbach said. "Some of the best days we've had is when parents come and then Mom and Dad shoot with the kids. In our community, I think we've all gotten away from doing things as families, and I think this is one of those things that is really fun to do together."

Trebil agrees and hopes to still be a part of the Claybreakers post-graduation. Whether that means being in charge of grilling brats on family nights or keeping track of shooters' scores, he's up for anything that will benefit the team that's brought him so much high school success.

"I really do hope the league continues to grow," Trebil said. "I think this is something that every high school should be open to. It's one of those sports that just has a different atmosphere; everyone is happy no matter how they shoot."

Without the growing support from the Ellsworth community, Trebil said he and his former teammates would still be a bunch of "rag tag kids just throwing clays around without formal competitions."

Now they're alumni of a nationally-recognized team in a league that provides its participants with more than just medals.

"Being in a group like this, it makes you safer while using guns on and off the trap course," Trebil said. "If you're going hunting or handling a gun during any other time, you're practicing those same values that you would down at the Ellsworth Rod and Gun Club."