By Nick Simonson
Manning the booth at the Bismarck Sport Show for the teams I’m helping to get off the ground with a hard-core group of 20 other volunteer coaches gave me some time to reflect on all our cadre had accomplished since last fall. From my joining the group mid-summer after relocating to the area, reaching out and being welcomed into the fold with open arms, we had grown the teams from 35 students in the spring from three schools, to 48 in the fall, to the now 150 expected to sign up after this week’s final meeting at the sixth school in the area, the local growth mirrored that of the Clay Target League across the region in the past decade.
Jittery for the start of the event after setting up the booth, my caffeine-fueled knee bobbed up and down under the display table while I tracked the hits on our team’s Facebook Page and updated our website. A fellow coach asked me if I ever settled down.
“Only at around 9 o’clock,” I replied, “then I’m pretty much asleep on the couch,” I said with a laugh, but with all that’s going on this spring in terms of our developing teams and the rapidly-growing league, it’s hard not to be fired up and running at 90 miles-an-hour.
The North Dakota State High School Clay Target League (ND CTL) which began in 2015 is growing by leaps and bounds, following the pattern set out by its big brother in Minnesota, and the similar leagues now in place across 31 states in the country under the USA High School Clay Target League (USA CTL) banner. While officials estimate the ND CTL will jump from 900 participants last year to 1,200 this year, having lived through the Minnesota league’s growth from 2013 to 2017, I don’t think 1,500 is out of the realm of possibility in the Peace Garden State. In the land of 10,000 lakes, there will be more kids shooting trap this spring than those that play hockey, and possibly football, as last year’s 11,400 registered shooters are expected to top 12,000 this year; similar growth is on the way in North Dakota and in every state that CTL has impacted.
One need only follow CTL’s trajectory elsewhere and that of in-school shooting sports such as the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) which has more than 11,000 kids in North Dakota taking part in archery activities as part of their curriculum; engaging in safe, friendly competitions leading up to a state tournament at the end of March and national and even world tournaments in April, May and June. This past season, USA CTL announced its inaugural national tournament as well, further evidencing the mainstreaming of this popular league and shooting sports in our schools.
Checking back in with the booth on Sunday afternoon, and finding our wait list filled with an additional 20 names, and our stack of contact cards down to a mere handful, I was pleased to hear reports of the various supportive comments and the usual “I wish I had something like this when I was a kid,” when parents would drop by to learn more about the spring and fall CTL seasons and how their children could get involved. More so, I was excited to learn our contact information had been given out to a number of school superintendents, parents and wildlife club leaders from around the state who had stopped by the display over the weekend, inquiring as to how we had gotten the program up and running so quickly in the area and how they could do the same.
The word is out, and as a result, CTL continues to grow not only in the large communities like Bismarck, and the established programs throughout Minnesota where I once coached, but now also in those places where the idea has taken hold like Killdeer, Turtle Lake and the many small towns with the single- or double-house gun club that are looking to just get started. That is where the future of this sport rests, and along with it and the youth who will take part, rests the future…of our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Coach Darryl Howard instructs members of the Bismarck, Legacy & Century High School CTL teams as part of the Fall 2017 ND Clay Target League. Simonson Photo)