Troy Kirsch can’t help but be a little jealous of kids these days.
Unlike when he graduated from school in Platte, high school students now can participate in one of their favorite hobbies as a club sport: trapshooting.
“I would have loved to do this as a kid,” he said. “This is a pretty great thing for so many kids to be a part of.”
Platte-Geddes High School is one of seven South Dakota high schools participating in the South Dakota High School Clay Target League’s inaugural season. Thirty-five students in grades 6-12 are on the Platte-Geddes team, which includes eight girls. The team is nearly double the size of the summer trap team, which usually has 18 to 20 participants.
Kirsch helps direct the team and said it’s open to every student at every skill level, allowing some students to participate who otherwise wouldn’t be involved with a sport at the high school.
“It’s a neat program,” he said. “Everyone can go to the state tournament if they want to. We have some kids where they don’t participate in a traditional school sport, so this is their chance to do that.”
The most important part of the sport happens before anyone fires a shot, said Mark Smit, the team’s head coach. Safety is the top priority.
“It’s the first thing that happens around here, and it’s how you handle the gun and how you handle yourself,” Smit said. “It all starts there and shooting is secondary. I have kids that can’t hit a target, but they do the whole thing safely.”
Smit has been involved with the Platte Trap Club for three decades and has been the club’s youth coach in the summer for 20 years, something he and his wife, Jan, enjoy. To have the level of involvement in the high school league’s first year has been impressive, Smit said.
“This is a blast,” he said. “These kids, it doesn’t matter how well they shoot, but they have a big smile on their face and they’re having fun.”
Each team member pays a $30 registration fee, but otherwise, the ammunition and clay targets are provided. Students are required to pass the HuntSafe gun safety course from the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks to participate. Every team member has a gun but members of the gun club are willing to offer firearms to those in need. Kirsch said the team needs to raise $10,000 to cover the cost of the materials, about half of which has been raised so far.
Participants shoot 50 times each league night, broken into two sessions of 25 shots, with five shots each coming from five different locations on an arc-shaped concrete pad. Each shooter receives a score out of 25, and the scores are kept for a five-week season with each session averaged for the year.
On April 22, the Platte-Geddes team held its reserve week, which allows for the team to have scores banked in case a competition week is cancelled due to weather or other circumstances. The state tournament will be held June 11 at the Aberdeen Gun Club and each of the athletes are allowed to participate at the state tournament. At that meet, they are broken into three tiers, based on their season scoring average: novice (0-14.99 points per week), junior varsity (15-18.99) and varsity (19-25). Individual and team awards will be given out at each tier.
Six other South Dakota schools are participating in the first season, including Brookings, Bowdle, Canton, Milbank, Pierre and Vermillion. Until the state tournament, there will not be direct competition against the other schools. Instead, the scores are submitted online at the end of each week.
In all, 211 students are out for the sport in South Dakota. Neighboring states have shown how quickly the sport can grow. Minnesota’s league had 340 students participating in 2010 but now has 10,361 participants on 319 high school teams.
By season’s end, some of the shooters will fire 3,000 rounds, most using 12-gauge firearms and some firing 20-gauge shotguns. Kirsch said the skill levels and experience of the team run the full spectrum.
“We have some kids who have never done trapshooting before and we’ve got other kids who are pretty familiar with it,” he said.
The sport is a club sport and not sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association. Kirsch expects more teams in the next few years, and he said some area residents called to inquire about forming their own team.
On a community level, the league is also good for the trap club itself. Kirsch said the hope is that the involvement of more shooters at a younger age will keep the trap club viable for years to come.
“I think it’s good for our kids to be exposed to something like this and have an opportunity to learn at the same time.”
For 16-year-old Ethan Kirsch, he already loves to hunt, fish and trap, so joining the high school team didn’t take much convincing.
“I just like shooting and being outdoors,” he said. “It’s pretty simple. We’re a rural community and it’s a pretty good fit with a lot of the kids in our area.”
A friend of Kirsch and longtime shooting partner, Kordell DeHaan, 18, of Platte, said he was probably 4 or 5 years old the first time he shot a gun. He’s been shooting ever since and said the key to hitting the 4-inch wide target is to get into a rhythm and to be focused.
“You have to keep your head on the gun,” he said. “You have to get it in your head to not be lazy.”
Jayden Johnson, 12, was new to trapshooting. But she said there was a goal in mind for the sixth-grader.
“Me and my dad are both big hunters and I kind of wanted to start getting better, so that I could hunt this fall,” Johnson said. “It’s less athletic but you have to be thinking.”
Carly Reiser, 14, is among the best-shooting girls on the team so far this season.
“You need to keep your head down on the gun and you have to believe you can do it,” she said.
Reiser also makes no secret that she’s out there to beat the boys.
“I like it,” she said. “If you beat the boys, you can brag and let them know about it.”