by Darren Diekmann
A number of Sartell-St.Stephen students are competing in what is possibly the largest shooting competition of its kind in the world.
Fifty-five members of the Sartell school’s clay-target team will join more than 7,000 other Minnesota students grades 7 through 12 in competition at the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League Trap Shooting Championship, June 12-20.
The nine-day competition will attract more than 25,000 spectators coaches and athletes, from 304 Minnesota schools, who will converge on the Alexandria Shooting Park in Alexandria, said Jim Sable, executive director of the MNSHSCTL.
“Just six years ago the championship took just one day for 200 athletes,” Sable said. “It’s amazing to think in just a few years the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League Trap Shooting Championship has become the largest shooting event in the world.”
For individual competition, students are divided into novice, junior varsity and varsity classes, according to ability, said Ben Hoffman, a science teacher for the high school and one of the coaches for the Sartell-St. Stephen team.
Regardless of age, if a student is averaging a score of 10 or so in a round of 25, that will put him in the novice class, Hoffman explained.
Team competition has nine classes determined, not by the size of the school, but by the number of team members. With a total of 73 members, Sartell is in the largest class, 9A.
As a team Sartell does not expect to place in the tournament, Hoffman said. Two individuals though, seniors Austin Pietrowski, with an average score of 23, and Kaleb Myhrwold, with a 22 average, have a chance to finish in the top 100 if they shoot well, Hoffman noted.
Out of a field of more than 10,000 competitors, both are near the top 100 for average scores for the season, and they must hit a good number of 25s to keep up their averages. This season, an average score of 23.5 would put a student in the top 100.
A round is 25 clay targets, and the student’s average score for the season is taken from two rounds for every week of the season. In Alexandria, students will be shooting four rounds for a total of 100 targets.
Sartell started its clay-target team three years ago with about 50 students and joined the MNSHSCTL for the 2015 season, Hoffman said. It was one of more than 40 teams statewide that joined the league that year along with neighboring Sauk Rapids-Rice and Cold Spring, among other central Minnesota teams.
Hoffman has been coaching the team for all three years and helped get it started. He credits the help of Joe Opatz, who has led the push to get several high school clay-target teams going in central Minnesota. It was the students, however, Hoffman said, who initiated the effort to get a clay-target team started.
“I would say students were really the ones who started pushing for this,” Hoffman said. “They are the ones who approached me and asked if they could get the support of our school, would I be willing to coach.”
The team practices at Tel-Tone/Luth Gun Range in St. Cloud on Saturday mornings. Paul Moe, also with Sartell-St. Stephen schools, coaches with Hoffman. They are helped by six to eight dedicated volunteer coaches.
“We just couldn’t do all we do if it wasn’t for their help,”Hoffman said.
All the students on the Sartell team have completed the firearms safety certification course through the Department of Natural Resources.
The Trap Shooting Championship in Alexandria is also the team-qualifying event for the MSHSL’s Clay Target State Tournament.
The 100 individual students with the highest averages during the regular spring season compete with the MNSHSCTL. and the teams that finish in the top 40 in Alexandria will qualify to compete in the MSHSL state championships June 24 at the Minneapolis Gun Club in Prior Lake. Minnesota is the only state in the United States whose official high-school league offers a high school trap shooting state tournament.
Author: Darren Diekmann
Diekmann grew up in Mounds View, Minnesota. He attended St. Cloud State University to wrestle and study English. He has been an infrequent freelance writer for several years, mostly for the Monitor-Review, a small paper that served the southern Minnesota town of Adams. He and his wife recently moved to Sauk Rapids to watch their grandchildren grow. He has been freelance writing for the Newsleaders since late 2015, and is still trying to get used to the novelty of having an editor.