Waconia High School has another conference championship in its hands, in the fastest growing sport in the nation.
The Waconia Trapshooting Club, organized through Waconia Community Education, recently captured its second consecutive title, after only being a program for two seasons. Dominating Class AAA Conference 3, Waconia won the title with 28,679 total points over second place Foley at 24,619.
In the five scored weeks of competition this season, Waconia was the top team of the eight-team conference each week, never scoring less than 5,300 points. Only one other team, Foley, posted over 5,300 points on a given week, and did it just once.
“Waconia ran the table this year in the 3AAA conference,” assistant coach and Board President Dan Fulkerson said, “placing first in the conference on every week of competition, even though we were dodging snow storms and lightning bolts for most of the season.”
Other conference teams included Forest Lake, Hopkins, Plainview-Elgin-Millville, Orono, Heritage Christian Academy, and Benson.
The Minnesota State High School Clay Target League hosts 6,100 student-athletes that represent 185 high schools in the fastest growing high school sport in the nation.
The Waconia team got its start in 2013 after a number of students expressed interest in forming a team. Head coach Dave Aeling, who had helped to get the WHS Conservation Club off and running, harbors a passion for outdoor activities and has taken a number of students hunting.
“The kids were pushing, they had an interest in it,” he said. “That interest (hunting) obviously ties to the trapshooting.”
Trapshooting targets, however, are much smaller in comparison to hunting game and even the slightest change in technique can completely offset a shooter’s repetition and balance.
Because of this, coaches are very active during competition, often standing a few feet behind athletes to offer suggestions and support.
“You’ll see the coaches step in, give them tips,” Aeling said. “It’s a very mental timing kind of sport.”
Trapshooting takes dedication and a tough mentality as much as it demands a bit of physical strength. The Waconia team is open to all students, grades 7-12, at all skill levels.
“It’s really not how much of an athlete you are,” Aeling said, “you can be as good as you want to be.”
The Waconia team has 40 shooters this year, up from 30 in 2013, and has 20 more students on a wait list.
Classes and conferences are arranged by the number of shooters on a team, with Waconia being just one of nearly 70 clubs at 40 participants.
Every shooter shoots during every competition and the top 32 scores are counted toward the team score, reflecting a true team score and taking pressure off the shoulders of the newer and less experienced shooters.
“We’ve got a really good team,” Aeling said. “We’ve got some really good scores coming in.”
Like most sports, the higher the score the better, and the better shooters help to pad the team score.
During a competition, a shooter shoots two 25-shot rounds, taking five shots at each of five positions and rotating through twice. Unlike other sports where teams directly face off against each other, trap teams shoot alone and upload their scores to the League. Each team in a given conference has one day each week
to shoot and 24 hours to submit scores. Scores are tabulated on Saturdays.
Waconia’s only time to shoot is on Thursday afternoons at the Carver County Sportsman’s Club, a private club in rural Waconia, and nothing short of lightning will stop the players from competing — not rain, snow, freezing cold, or blistering sun.
With a limited time to compete and nothing but two weeks of practice and a “reserve” scores week, there isn’t much time for athletes to prepare. Other local gun clubs offer trap shooting ranges, but it can be difficult to make the trip to Lester Prairie, Watertown, or LeSueur.
The top 100 student-athletes, recognized by their regular season average per round, automatically qualify for the 2014 MSHSL’s State tournament, which will be held June 14 at the Minneapolis Gun Club in Prior Lake.
That 2014 list included two Waconia shooters: Bradley Gilbertson (22.7 season average) and Taylor Shoonover (22.4).
Thirteen Waconia shooters recently competed in the Class AAA championship in Alexandria on June 8. The championship weekend ran June 6-10 and featured nearly 4,000 student-athletes. All athletes shoot at a level as determined by their season average: Novice (0-14.99 average per round), Junior Varsity (15-18.99) and Varsity (19-25). The top five scores from each team were be used to calculate the team score.
The top four teams from the Class AAA championship advance to the MSHSL’s state tournament on June 14 at the Minneapolis Gun Club in Prior Lake to join the top 100 individuals already qualified. Qualifying teams included St. Francis, Monticello, Zimmerman, and NR-H-E-G. Waconia finished in a three-way tie for 12th place, of 31 teams, with Glencoe-Silver Lake and the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity/Watertown-Mayer team.
Waconia’s top five scores, totaling the team score was led by Spencer Neu, who tied for 16th overall with a 95. Waconia’s other top scores included Ryan Hoghaug (92), Shoonover (90), Gilbertson (88), and Gavin Held (87). Garrett Williams also turned in an 87 and other varsity shooters included Lucas Schultz (85), Ian Schrup (84), Matthew Fulkerson (83), and Tony Killian (82). David Williams (89), Jacob Neutgens (82), and Sydney Gilbertson (79) competed at the junior varsity level. Sydney Gilbertson finished in a tie for 9th best female shooter at her level.
Throughout the season, the top 25 players in each conference were recognized each week. In the final week of competition, top 25 male players from Waconia included Gilbertson (4th), Schoonover (5th), Garrett Williams (6th), Spencer Neu, Jacob Steinbauer, Lucas Schultz, Collin Reus, Ryan Hoghaug, Tony Hartmann, and Tony Killian.
Of the five female shooters on the Waconia team, two cracked the top 25 females list, including Morgan Samuelson (9th) and Desiarae Haas.
Athletes are also recognized by the League for hitting all 25 or 50 of their targets in a competition week. Breaking into the 25-Straight Club this season were Gilbertson (Week 5), Williams (Week 3, 5), Hoghaug (Week 5), Reus (Week 3), and Schoonover (Week 3).
Students are eligible to letter in trapshooting through Waconia High School, although the trap shooting club is not recognized in the yearbook.
“Someday, maybe the fastest growing sport in high school will get the full recognition it deserves and be sanctioned by schools,” Fulkerson said.
With the stigma associated with young people and guns, the Waconia Trap Club is sure to hold its participants to the highest of standards. Training sessions are held and in conjunction with the state standards and regulations, safety is of utmost importance.
“Our kids have a double set of standards,” Aeling said. “You don’t get second chances.”
The first trip out to the Carver County Shooting Club each year doesn’t even
“Safety is of paramount importance to our sport so all athletes go through several weeks of training in the classroom to completely understand the rules set by the schools, leagues, and our team,” Fulkerson said. “Every athlete knows these expectations before even going to the shooting club.”
Competition doesn’t start until 4:30 p.m. each Thursday, giving student-athletes plenty of time to drive home and pick up their guns, so that no one has to bring it to school in the trunk of his or her vehicle.
“The sport as a whole and the teams fully understand the issues of putting the words ‘guns’ and ‘schools’ in the same sentence,” Fulkerson said. “But all involved feel that the athletes have a much better appreciation of this situation, being well educated with firearms and the problems associated with this topic.”
The Waconia team, and many like it, operate under a strict zero tolerance policy.
At the club, shooters cannot load their guns until the shooter before him or her has finished. When not actively shooting, guns are kept safely in bags or, in the case of the next squad up, on a gun rack behind the competition arc.
Aeling said trapshooting points a positive light toward guns, teaching students to understand them.
“It sheds a great light on guns,” he said. “It’s not the gun that makes the violence, it’s the person with the gun.”
In addition, the MSHSCTL requires one coach for every 10 shooters.
“There are multiple safety officers at every event along with multiple coaches,” Fulkerson said. “Plus several other parents also organize the teams and stage them for their shooting cycles.”
Aeling said what really makes the Waconia Trap Club successful is the cooperative and support the athletes have received from the Carver County Sportsman Club and the parent group behind the students.
“The parent group is the best part of this organization,” Aeling said.
He added that the members of the CCSC have been nothing short of phenomenal for the team.
“They’re a group of people that are pretty special,” Aeling said.
Those who assist during competitions are all volunteers.
“They’re a huge asset,” Aeling said. “Everybody helps everyone out as much as they can.”
Fulkerson couldn’t agree more, adding that the members of the CCSC contribute to the “seamless orchestration of safety” during competition.
“All of the people who help and coach are volunteers,” Fulkerson said. “It’s a wonderful thing to see so many people with the same passion all sharing their time with our youth.”
But trapshooting comes at a high cost, as equipment and shells are not cheap.
“Another type of help our team is provided is by other sponsors who help us keep the costs down as low as possible for our kids by providing financial help or donating equipment to our team,” Fulkerson said. “We have been very fortunate over the last two years.”
To defray the cost for students, corporate sponsors assist the team including Delta Water Fowl, Western Carver County Pheasants Forever Chapter, Pheasants Forever, MidwayUSA Foundation, Larry and Brenda Potterfield, the Waconia Lions Club, Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative’s Round UP Program, Schwan’s Care’s Fundraising, Laketown Electric, and Greater Midwest Fundraising.
“We try to raise as much funds as we can,” Aeling said, in order to keep the sport affordable to any student. “The kids learn how to donate and pitch in.”
Like any sport, the trapshooting program has worked to break barriers and form friendships among students. In turn, the athletes have a drive to compete and do well, while supporting each other.
“These kids care, they want their team to do well and be No. 1,” Aeling said.
Between the dedication and passion from coaches, parents, volunteers, and players, the Waconia Trap Club has become an established, well-oiled, safe, and successful program with hopefully many more years to come.
“(The volunteers) go way out of their way to help all of our athletes and coaches. All to share their love of shooting sports,” Fulkerson said. “The club leads by example to show our young shooters respect for shooting sport competition and volunteerism while in a very safe environment.”
While the team season may now be over, Waconia will surely be on hand to cheer on Bradley Gilbertson and Taylor Schoonover at the state tournament this weekend. Both qualified as individuals for finishing the season in the top 100 student-athletes.
Contact Melissa Marohl at [email protected]