by Calli Newberry
The Sandusky High School Clay Target team kicked off its six-week fall season on Sunday afternoon at the Marlette Sportsmen’s Association. The program began in 2018 and since then, the team has won two conference titles and several honors at the state and national levels.
“Every season that we’ve shot we’ve had team members who were in the top 10 in the state and even some in the top 25 in the country,” head coach Cindy Leen said, “so we’re doing something right here.”
Two of those shooters will be returning this year as seniors: Colin Hennika and Amelia Hoag. They both competed at nationals last season and are looking to repeat another trip to the national stage and improve their scores.
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“I want to shoot 25 out of 25 because I haven’t actually done that yet. And make it to nationals again,” Hoag said of her season goals. “I want to do well when I get there. I kind of fell apart when I got there last year.”
Hoag had a season average of just over 23 out of 25 last season, according to Leen. With this being her fourth and final season, she’s looking to end with her best score yet.
For Hennika, last year’s trip to nationals was his second time, where he finished 61st out of nearly 1700 shooters, and had a season average of 24 out of 25.
“It was good. It’s fun, you get to meet a lot of new people and go to places like nationals,” he said. “Today went pretty well I guess for the first week. [This year I want] to win either states or nationals in the spring.”
But team members don’t have to be national qualifiers to enjoy this sport, according to Leen, who said her favorite part is the opportunity for kids of all ages and abilities to compete.
“The most wonderful thing about this sport is that kids with any ability are able to do it and contribute to the team. No one sits the bench, every single person no matter the ability, whether it’s a physical disability or a learning disability, everyone is able to participate safely and contribute to the team scores,” she said. “We have some really, really good shooters and we have some young, inexperienced shooters, but the league is really great in how they do scoring.”
Instead of traditional high school sports where teams are grouped by area and class to form conferences, the Michigan High School Clay Target League places schools in conferences according to team size. Then when they go to score, the top percentage of shooters’ scores will be counted, but whose scores are counted can change on a weekly basis depending on how each individual does.
The fall season will run for five more weeks as a precursor to the spring season, which is nine weeks long and includes the state and national competitions.
“The spring season is a more extended, more competitive season and it lasts nine weeks: two practice weeks, a reserved score week, and then six weeks of competition,” Leen said. “Then it’s followed up by the State Shoot and then depending on whether you qualify based on your season average, you would be invited to nationals.”
In between the fall and spring seasons, the students can enjoy hunting season, which Leen said improved hunting is not the end goal of the clay target team, but an added bonus.
“Some of our kids are hunters and some are not. For some it’s just more about the sport, but what we encourage is that if they learn to respect and handle the firearm safely, so no matter what sport they are partaking in, whether clay shooting or hunting, our main goal is safety. If marksmanship helps them be successful in hunting, then that’s an added bonus.”