The New Pop Warner: Scholastic Shooting Sports
Shooting programs on the rise, key to future industry growth
Zane Scrivner of Sequoyah (Claremore) Public Schools took individual first place in the High School Male Division at the 2014 Oklahoma Scholastic Shooting Sports State Shoot. (Photo courtesy Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation)
By: Lynn Burkhead, OutdoorChannel.com
With two high-profile college football teams and scores of local high schools that stage their version of "Friday Night Lights" each fall, it isn't surprising that by and large, Oklahoma is a football state.
With an equally rich hunting and shooting heritage, it also should be no surprise that the Sooner State has great enthusiasm for the shooting sports. This might help to explain the scene last spring to the west of Oklahoma City in the town of El Reno, where more than 40 schools took part in the Oklahoma Trapshooters Association's State Shoot.
By the end of the competition, more than 600 students in the seventh through the 12th grades had assembled to participate in the Oklahoma Scholastic Shooting Sports Program (OKSSSP) event, firing more than 16,000 shots before its conclusion.
"The OKSSSP has proven to be an immensely popular among the state schools that have joined the program," stated Damon Springer, a senior information and education specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, in a news release.
Modeled after programs like the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), the Oklahoma trapshooting event is a shotgun program designed to instill confidence and self-esteem in the students that participate according to organizers.
Altus Public Schools took first place in the High School Team Division at the 2014 Oklahoma Scholastic Shooting Sports State Shoot. (Photo courtesy Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation)
"Not only are students given the chance to learn about firearms and gun safety, but the schools receive financial support from endowment funds for participating in the program," said Springer, also the coordinator of the OKSSSP.
Springer noted that the endowment funds for his state's program come thanks to generous donations from Larry and Brenda Potterfield of MidwayUSA.
"Brenda and I are fortunate enough to be able to gift half of our income each year," said Larry Potterfield, founder and CEO of MidwayUSA. "We looked long and hard at the future of the shooting sports industry and came up with what we thought was the greatest opportunity – youth shooting sports in general and specifically high school and college shooting teams."
Potterfield indicates that he learned to hunt and shoot from his father. When Larry and Brenda married, it didn't take long before she also learned to shoot. As a result, the couple went on to raise children who also took up hunting and shooting sports.
All of that helps to explain their passion for recruiting youth into shooting sports.
"About 15 percent – (around) 3,000 – of the high schools and colleges in the U.S. have some type of a shooting team (for) air rifle, small bore or shotgun," said Potterfield. "For Brenda and myself, some of our donations go to those organizations that are helping set up new teams. Our pet project, the MidwayUSA Foundation, helps provide funding for new and existing high school and college shooting teams."
Michael Bane, a longtime author and television show host/producer of several Outdoor Channel shows, including The Best Defense, Shooting Gallery and MidwayUSA’s Gun Stories with Joe Mantenga, has seen firsthand the fruits of such labors.
"We were in Montana a few months ago filming for Shooting Gallery," he said. "While we were on the range, the local high school shooting team was there as well. It was a small team from a tiny town in Montana, but they were competing against much larger schools for the state championship. It was exciting to hear them talk about competing in the event and trying to knock off the bigger schools."
Bane acknowledges that there are elements in the mix that aspire to limit such programs ranging from introductory costs of firearms themselves to locating places to shoot to the cost and availability of ammunition supplies to the political pushback of mainstream media and the anti-gun portion of society.
Stilwell Public Schools took second place in the High School Team Division at the 2014 Oklahoma Scholastic Shooting Sports State Shoot. (Photo courtesy Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation)
But he counters that there also is plenty of enthusiasm and forward momentum for scholastic shooting programs that teach responsibility, safe firearms handling, a sense of purpose and commitment, teamwork and a positive self-image.
He indicates that he found proof of that during a recent dinner with his sweetheart in a college town located in his home state of Colorado.
"While we were there, we overhead a conversation between a few students who had all just turned 21 and had obtained their concealed carry licenses," said Bane. "These girls were enthusiastically talking about practicing with their firearms, about feeling safer while living off-campus and how they all shot scholastic clays while they were in high school. You don't see or hear (such stories) very often, certainly not from the mainstream media."
From the clay shooting program mentioned above to such endeavors as the National Shooting Sports Foundation's Rimfire Challenge, Bane said that there are numerous entry points now available for young people to get involved in the shooting sports.
"Now, with all of these scholastic pistol, rifle and clay shooting competitions, a young person can actually letter in the shooting sports in some places, just like they do in football or basketball," said Bane.
As good as all of that sounds, Potterfield notes that there is plenty of room for future expansion.
"In the short term, the growth in high school and college shooting sports shouldn't be noticeable, but every school that starts a new team engages 20 to 100 students," he said. "There are 17,500 schools without shooting teams and the 3,000 schools with teams have much room to grow, in terms of number of students engaged and the number of shooting disciplines."
Locust Grove Public Schools took first place in the Junior Team Division at the 2014 Oklahoma Scholastic Shooting Sports State Shoot. (Photo courtesy Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation)
Bane believes the key to such future growth will be the industry taking ownership of these endeavors and being willing to continue to invest time, energy and money.
"I think that unlike any other industry, we have to financially accept the needs of these programs to help them continue and grow," said Bane.
But the financial costs to promote shooting sports at the scholastic level and with introductory programs to new young shooters will have very positive long-term benefits in Bane's mind.
"When we look at the future, young people coming into shooting sports and hunting now, they represent our very survival," he said. "That's the way the culture that we love survives."
In a similar line of thought, Potterfield believes that if scholastic shooting competitions, like the one in Oklahoma last spring, continue to grow across the country, the results will be very favorable.
"The long-term effect will change the future of shooting sports, the shooting sports industry and the way the entire country thinks about the shooting sports," said Potterfield.
And that is a future certainly worth investing in for the survival of our culture and continued growth of our industry.
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