By Nick Simonson
With community support and the green light from the affiliated high school, the real fun of setting up a North Dakota State High School Clay Target League (ND CTL) team begins. Beyond the point-and-click and fill-in-the-blank processes of getting started at the ND CTL website, there are a number of tasks to be completed on a school and community level to generate awareness and facilitate the recruitment of participants. Utilizing social media, traditional media and word of mouth are key in bringing student athletes into the fold and starting the team with a strong base which will develop into top shooters in no time. Following those efforts and the completion of sign-up, arranging ammunition and apparel will bring a team together and get them ready to take aim.
Get the Word Out
Social media moves messages faster than any other means. A Facebook page, managed by interested and internet-savvy coaches, is key in keeping the information flowing and is a necessity. However, most students these days are also active on platforms such as Twitter and Snapchat, and for those willing to tap into these new pipelines to the younger demographics, the benefit of a broader reach can help with recruiting. During the recruitment phase – January through March for the ND CTL spring season – constant messaging is a must. Even if the posts are similar, try to get three or four of them up every week. Post updates as to how many kids are enrolled on the team, what the important dates are for the season, and tips for better shooting. Keep the messages positive and charged with anticipation for the upcoming season.
Utilize traditional media available in the area as well. Small town newspapers and regional radio are still a primary source of information for many, and those outlets are constantly looking for local news, updates and stories. As meetings are set to provide information and sign-up opportunities for the new CTL team, draft press releases for publication and broadcast media approximately two weeks in advance. The release does not need to be in-depth or even very long, just providing the basics will tip media off that something big is about to happen, and they will contact the applicable coach for more information, or a fuller story. Create an email list of local media contacts now, and utilize those resources during the season, to provide releases on each week’s successes and continue to generate awareness of the growing team.
Finally, like swinging through and busting a clay, go after the target. Utilize the local conservation group’s monthly newsletter, flyer at local gun shops, and place posters in the school and announcements in its daily bulletins. These places are where interested eyes and ears will connect with an enrollment message, and it can be passed on to potential participants, or absorbed directly by them. Keep the message short and direct with dates, times, locations, and contact information, and interested participants will show up.
Set It Up
It is important to set informational and sign-up meetings early, at least six weeks before the ND CTL enrollment deadline of March 10. Having these meetings in January allows coaches time to calculate ammunition needs, get uniform orders placed, and establish a feel for skill level, experience and age groups which will make up the team. Typically, most students will enroll early on – during or right after the meetings. This gives coaches ample time to prepare for the season and get a good estimate of the team’s needs, even though there may be a few stragglers as the deadline approaches in early spring.
With the rapid expansion of CTL, companies such as Federal Premium and other shotgun shell producers have stepped up to answer the call of this growing market, often at an incredible discount to shooting sports teams. Reaching out directly to the manufacturers inquiring about youth shooting sports shell programs, or working through a local sporting goods store which has a relationship with their sales representatives, can help ferret out incredible deals. In this time of plenty for these businesses, it is not uncommon to find a ten-box case for 50 dollars or less through a CTL-related discount program.
“Federal Premium has been a longtime supporter of many youth shooting sports programs across the country including the High School Trap shooting programs. Being a supporter of these youth programs is great opportunity to support the many outreach programs giving thousands of new shooters an opportunity to partake in fun and safe shooting sports activities,” said Jon Zinnel who handles Education and Outreach for Vista Outdoor including Federal Premium Ammunition, “it is a great thing to provide savings to these recruitment, retention and reactivation programs with our products so they can practice and become more successful in their endeavors,” he concluded.
Through the ND CTL website, information on each shooter is tracked and provided to coaches. From shirt size to gauge of shotgun, coaches can put their team together and get exact numbers for their needs. With this information, coaches can outfit their team to bring it all together. The trap shooting apparel and accessories market is also booming and a number of local, regional and national players cater to the needs of new teams. From shirts and vests to pouches and glasses, the demand for these items is growing, and as a result, a competitive market has formed to help burgeoning teams along.
“Our focus is to make the process as easy on coaches as possible…about 75 percent of teams want us to create a logo, and we have talented artists that can do that” said Steve Gnoza, President of Jager Outdoors, “from there, we can do anything from just a basic cotton tee all the way up to sublimated sweatshirts, and we have our own brand of custom vests as well as shell pouches,” he continued, stressing the custom-made products are designed by shooters, for shooters, and provide greater options to teams with custom colors that go beyond what’s available over-the-counter.
“While it’s an individual sport, coaches and teams find a benefit in getting [a team] outfitted together,” said Andy Bohlig of Jager Outdoors’ Sales, “a jersey creates unity and pride; it makes a statement,” he concluded, adding that interested teams should check out jageroutdoors.com for their team’s apparel needs, as the company has grown along with the CTL over the past three seasons, providing everything needed for competition except the shotguns and the shells.
Approach local sporting goods stores to set up displays catering to the new crop of competitive shooters coming into the community. Odds are eight weeks of CTL competition will be just the beginning for them, and the demand for shells, new guns and related gear will increase. Taking some time to connect with local gun shops and stores that can meet the demand will also provide a contact point to move new shooters in the right direction and continue practicing well after the season has ended. In turn, these businesses will benefit with higher sales, and the relationship with the team becomes symbiotic. Use that to continue to drive interest season-after-season.
The establishment of a CTL team is a learning process. There are many great contacts at both the ND CTL and USA Clay Target League who have years of experience helping coaches get started. Issues are remedied almost immediately, and information is free-flowing via email and telephone. Utilize those resources to help get over any hurdles and streamline enrollment efforts. Save that knowledge and those contacts for seasons to come and preserve all documentation in digital files which can easily be shared. The timeline and process don’t change much from year-to-year, and the information can be re-deployed with slight tweaks for the following season. Maintain a deep coaching and volunteer staff and cross-train and inform as many who need to know about the scheduling, recruiting and organizing efforts that go into each season for the best continuity of the program.
From there, the sky is the limit for the new team. With USA Clay Target announcing their first National Championship this year, odds are that with the right recruitment, organization, and roll-out of a new squad, those young shooters stand a good chance of standing behind a house at the big event in the very near future.
(Featured Photo: Recruiting via the means that reach students will help build interest in a new CTL team. Using a combination of social and traditional media along with in-school advertisements will help bring kids in. Simonson Photo)
Nick Simonson is a freelance outdoors journalist, a founding coach of the Marshall (MN) High School Clay Target League Team and a current coach for the Bismarck, Legacy and Century High School Clay Target League Teams in Bismarck, ND.