The Princeton School District is planning for a new Tigers sports team next spring that will involve shooting a shotgun quickly and accurately enough to blast flying clay targets.
This outdoor sport is called trap shooting, something that predates the American Civil War, and which the School Board just adopted as a school sport on Nov. 26.
The Princeton Tigers trap shooting team will be made up of students in grades seven through 12, and the season will go from April into June. Each participant will pay a $250 fee, which would include the ammunition. It will qualify under the government program that allows a reduction of the fee if a student’s family meets certain low-income rules.
The board approved the sport following a presentation from Princeton High School Activities Director and Assistant Principal Darin Laabs. He noted that the idea had been in the talking stage for about a year.
The trap shooting will take place at the West Branch Gun Club shooting range owned and operated by Ken Sanford in rural Princeton, where trap shooting teams have competed in a league for many years.
A club sport
Princeton had a 16-member trap shooting club last spring, with the youngest participant being 12 and the oldest being juniors in high school. Princeton residents Martin and Michelle Cunningham started the club under the sanction of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League.
Michelle Cunningham, an eighth-grade English teacher at Princeton Middle School, said she got the idea when she and Martin Cunningham and son Matthew Hofstad, now 15, were at a wild game feed in Anoka in August 2012. The MSHS Clay Target League had an exhibit there and Michelle remembers thinking,“Oh, that’s cool.” She later approached Laabs about the idea of the school district trying it as a school sport and he advised her to speak with Princeton Community Education Director Gwen Anderson about running it first as a community education activity.
Anderson didn’t think the paperwork could be completed in time to start it as a community education sport in the spring of 2013, so the Cunninghams formed the trap shooting club last spring. Michelle Cunningham said she received the know-how to form and operate it from MSHS League Vice President John Nelson. He told her about the Clay Target League, she explained.
The Princeton club had an “amazing” trap shooting season, its varsity team placing 16th out of 70 teams in the state trap shooting meet in Alexandria, she said.
How it will work
The school district’s trap shooting will operate much like the club operated. It will have a nine-week run from April into June. It will begin with two practice weeks, followed by one reserve week, five competition weeks, then a week off known as “fun week” and finally the state meet, Laabs told the School Board. For the reserve week, the scores can be used for points in case one of the competition weeks is canceled due to bad weather.
Laabs’ plans are to have one head coach at a cost of $4,116, one assistant coach at $2,934 and a range safety officer for $600. Other expenses will be as much as $6,000 for the school district’s fee to use West Branch Gun Club, if figuring $200 to $300 fee per participant going to the club, plus $12,500 for uniforms, $1,000 for supplies and $500 for entry fees.
If there are 20 participants, each paying the $250 activity fee for this speciality sport, that will bring in $5,000 to the district to help offset the expenses, Laabs noted.
Laabs acknowledged that firearms are always a concern and explained that the firearms used in the sport are to be kept at West Branch Gun Club. The students will use their own guns and the guns will not be brought to school, he added.
The shotguns used in trap shooting are either 20 gauge or 12 gauge, with 12 gauge the most used. Steel shot is what is in the shells.
A trap shooting range has five stations in which a small groups such as four shooters move from station to station at the trap shooting range. Each shooter in a group gets a chance for five shots at each station. The clay pigeons, or targets that are flung into the air, have different trajectory angles from station to station.
The job of the range safety officer is to make sure the participants are following the rules, which Sanford will spell out before any of the shooting begins, Laabs noted. He said that no one will be able to be on the team until they have successfully completed the state-approved gun safety training course.
Laabs said that after he was approached to consider making the proposal to the school board, he researched it.
“We’re not going go off half-cocked,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be very popular,” Board Chairperson Deb Ulm said.
Laabs, who is a hunter and also does the sporting style of trap shooting, said that he and other promoters of trap shooting for the school district believe it can “broaden horizons” and “give a different scope,” as well as provide a “lifelong skill.”
School Board Member Chuck Nagle asked about the fees that the district will have to pay to use the West Branch Gun Club range and was told that it is no different than the district paying a fee for using the hockey arena for school hockey, since the hockey arena complex is not owned by the district.
“It’s the cost of doing business,” added Michelle Czech, the district’s director of business.
Laabs added that since the talk began in Princeton about having trap shooting as a school sport, he has had outside inquiries including from Milaca and Zimmerman. He said he has informed callers that if they want to enroll in the Princeton School District to take advantage of trap shooting as a school sport, they can do so through the open enrollment provision.