By Nick Simonson
The North Dakota State High School Clay Target League (ND CTL) continues to grow as the league enters its fourth season in the state. With over 1,600 shooters and more than 60 teams kicking off the spring league this week, ND CTL Director Joe Courneya cites the alignment of the right contact and strong support for the expansion of competitive high school trapshooting, and the mainstreaming of the sport for its early success.
“The popularity of the league among the schools we have and the talk among all the partners – athletes, parents, coaches – and the athletic directors really like it,” said Courneya of the buzz around ND CTL “and those [schools] that don’t have it yet are excited to add it, so the discussion at the administrative level is driving it,” he said of the additional ten teams added this spring and other school districts that are expressing interest.
Among the new teams this year are programs in Steele, Dickinson and Minot, with considerable expansion into towns located in western North Dakota. Additionally, this year, six teams have added skeet shooting squads to their programs as the ND CTL follows the Minnesota league’s course of adding the two-house event to its weekly and state competition. With the influx of schools, shooters and an additional shooting sport to the mix, the ND CTL plans an expanded three-day state tournament in Horace, N.D. in June, up from two days last year to accommodate more shooters and the new discipline.
According to Courneya, it is likely that there will be four conferences this season as well to accommodate teams of various sizes. As participation grows and the sport becomes more mainstream (it is currently the eighth-largest extracurricular in North Dakota, in terms of participants), Courneya anticipates full adoption by the North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA).
“We’re at the tipping point; this will be the year where we start discussing it with the Activities Association and adding it as a sanctioned sport in the state,” Courneya stated, “not knowing how they’ll look at it, it will be a process of working through requirements and moving from club sport to a sanctioned athletic program and those management changes,” he added, suggesting that Spring 2020 is not out of the question for full adoption by the NDHSAA.
The growth of ND CTL has also been fueled by strong support from the North Dakota Game & Fish Department which offers grants to help get teams established through the purchase of basic shooting sports gear and protective equipment, along with bigger amounts to create or update trap ranges and shooting facilities throughout the state. The alignment of the league’s popularity with the agency’s R3 Program – which stands for Recruit, Retain and Reactivate – further facilitates schools and sportsman groups wishing to start an ND CTL team in their area. Courneya cites the NDG&F’s flexibility and adaptability as a key factor in its ability to help get money to where it needs to be in order to foster new shooting sports facilities that increase shooters and ultimately adds to the ranks of hunters.
“Programs like CTL are gateway opportunities for that younger generation. In ND it’s already proven – we have sportsman clubs and gun clubs that are reviving and facilities that were unused or underused, are now seeing new shooters,” Courneya relates, “kids are naturally out hunting and shooting, but in some areas CTL is their first exposure to handling a firearm; a lot want to go on from busting a target to getting into hunting and that’s a great thing I think, we got them hooked on shooting sports and they want to take it to that next level,” he concluded.
The ND CTL Spring 2019 League began on Sunday, Mar. 31 and runs through May 25. Participants log all of their rounds at a local gun club and the scores are uploaded and ranked against other teams on the league’s website (ndclaytarget.com). The season culminates June 14-16 at the Shooting Park in Horace, N.D. with the State Tournament, an open style event where all shooters, regardless of average can compete against shooters from other schools.
Featured Photo: The ND CTL works to reward young shooters for their accomplishments – like Calby Geiger of Mandan celebrating his first perfect round at State in 2018 – and strives to include all students in the program. This is part of what makes the league so appealing to schools, gun clubs and a state looking to add to its hunting ranks. Simonson Photo.