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Canby trap shooters improve markedly in first season, many earn varsity letters and a couple achieve other accolades

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Canby Clay Target League team top point-getters pose for a photo.

Uttering the magic word "pull," a Canby High athlete triggers the voice activated trap house – unleashing a zooming ball of clay into the Canby Rod and Gun Club field. While the shooter lifts her gun, follows the target and pulls the trigger, other athletes mimic the motion nearby in preparation for their turn on the range. Immediately, they all find out if the shot whizzed by or pierced clay.

Headed by team advisor Connie McNamee, the Canby trapshooting club team recently completed their first season competing in the Oregon Clay Target League. The sport is simple enough. In a 25 shot round, competitors try to hit as many targets as they can and rotate between five stations. The team, consisting of 20 athletes, practiced once a week.

For Canby assistant coach Chuck McClaugherty, the inaugural season was a long time coming.

When McClaugherty attended Canby High School in the mid-'90s, a school-run trapshooting team did not exist. Instead, he worked for the Canby Rod and Gun Club, developed his skills and began to travel for trapshooting tournaments. Ever since, starting a team at Canby High has been a dream of his.

And two years ago, he began the process of turning that dream into a reality. But it took a while to convince the Canby School District that a shooting sport for high school kids is a safe and worthwhile activity.

"The part that was challenging is it involves guns and kids. The whole mentality behind that and people being scared of kids with firearms," McClaugherty said.

But he pointed out that the coaches and athletes are required to earn gun safety certifications, that the league in Minnesota had no history of accidents and that the injury rate in contact sports dwarfs that of competitive trapshooting.

So the team was cleared to compete earlier this year and McCaugherty signed on as an assistant coach.

McNamee has some experience with guns. Her family enjoys target shooting and when she was a teenager, she was a police explorer for the Milwaukie Police Force.

So when a parent asked her if she would serve as a team advisor, she agreed.

Though they had just a few months to be approved by the administration, get the word out and complete registration and certification, they accomplished requisite tasks and 20 students signed up for the team. Also, the team had myriad volunteer coaches and many more who offered to help.

McNamee is not surprised by the interest from the Canby community.

"From this community I'm not surprised. My daughter, she's more of a bow and arrow shooter. When she found out she had the opportunity to earn a varsity letter on a trap team, something her sister who graduated last year never had the chance to do, she was all in," McNamee said.

Many of the team members had never fired a shotgun before the season but improved markedly throughout the spring months. For instance, McNamee's daughter shot in single digits out of 25 attempts her first time out and then hit as many as 19 targets by competition season.

The Cougars finished the regular season in third place in the three-team conference with Hermiston and Molalla while Olivia Palacios finished third in her conference in season averages among female athletes and Leighton Imes joined the 25-straight targets hits club and earned a special patch for the accomplishment.

To earn a varsity letter, athletes had to either average 19 hits per round in competitions, hit 25 targets in a single round or finish in the top 25 in average hits per round. Nine Canby athletes earned a letter.

McNamee is not an expert on the technical aspects of the sport but received help from a few assistant coaches, such as McClaugherty, as well as workers at the gun club.

"That helped me with the technical part of it and I did a lot of the administrative part of it. I'm hoping this summer and the beginning of next year to really start getting involved more in the shooting," she said.

"We taught them how to mount the gun, where to look, how to safely move from post to post and getting them used to shooting that many shells," McClaugherty said.

The competition season lasted five weeks. Unlike most other sports, the Cougars essentially competed on their own – completing rounds and then logging their scores into an online database.

But at the state competition June 24 at Hillsboro Trap and Skeet Club, Canby athletes as well as athletes from the 14 other schools in Oregon will congregate together for one last competition.

For those unfamiliar with the sport or leery of gun sports, McNamee suggests they try it out and see if they like it.

"This is the safest high school sports in Oregon. I would tell somebody that doesn't have the experience 'Come down and try it out. Come down and see what we do,'" she said.

McNamee also points out that a student could participate in a spring sport while simultaneously competing for the trapshooting team.

However, costs can add up. The mandatory online safety course costs $25, registration costs $35, and targets and shells cost $130. Also, shotguns costs hundreds of dollars, but some students were able to borrow them from the gun club. Also, a private party donated safety vests to the team.

"We're not going to turn anybody away. You don't have to be the best shooter in town. You don't have to have years of experience. Everyone is welcome to try it," McNamee said.

With the positive feedback she received from last season and inquiries from other students and parents, McNamee hopes to have a 40-person team next year.

"Everybody had great feedback. Everyone is already looking forward to next year," she said.

McClaugherty, whose daughter will enter seventh grad at Baker Prairie Middle School next year, hopes to bring aboard Baker Prairie students and other students in the Canby community who are at least in sixth grade into the fold at some point in the future.

McClaugherty wishes a trapshooting team had sprouted up when he was in high school but would be happy to see his kids join the team in the near future.

"It's super rewarding to see this get started and I'm looking forward to the growth of it in the future and looking forward to my kids being able to shoot," he said.

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