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Trapshooting takes aim in high schools

by Candi Helseth

Justin Clemens, Garrett Mongeon and Emma Arstein and dog Tikka Trapshooting story
Justin Clemens, center, coaches the Rolette High School trapshooting team, which includes Garrett Mongeon, left, (with his dog, Tikka) and Emma Arstein, right.

Trapshooting has a long history in Rolette, but it was a new addition to Rolette High School’s sports options this past school year. Freshman Garrett Mongeon quips that being on the team has helped him learn to shoot better than his dad. Bill Mongeon concurs – openly proud that his son and he share this interest.

The team is led by volunteer coach Justin Clemens, an electrician at North Central Electric Cooperative in Bottineau.

The Rolette Wildlife Club initiated the move to introduce trapshooting into school activities, knowing there was sufficient interest. Sophomore Emma Arstein, one of two girls on the team, even attended the school board meeting to speak in its support. High school trapshooting teams are fairly new overall to North Dakota. The North Dakota State High School Clay Target League formed in 2015 with four teams and approximately 90 participants. Those numbers more than quadrupled in this second year with 23 teams and 563 participants.

John Nelson, USA High School Clay Target League board of directors vice president, has helped establish North Dakota's program. “North Dakota’s pace of growth is considerably faster even than what we saw starting in Minnesota,” he said. “We have received almost 40 inquiries to start more new teams in North Dakota. Clay target shooting is the fastest-growing and safest sport in high school.”

According to Nelson, kids have pulled the trigger more than 25 million times shooting at flying targets since the program’s beginning in 2001. There has not been a single reported injury.

The Rolette team, which consists of students from seventh to 12th grade, competes at the wildlife club’s trapshooting range, which has existed since the 1970s and was resurrected in 2009. The range provides stations for shooting at clay targets. A mechanized thrower inside a building randomly tosses out the targets to varying points within a specified range. Shooters progress through five different stations, accumulating up to 25 points for hitting all the targets.

“It’s a real challenge, a personal competition,” Bill Mongeon said. “Since they started the high school trapshooting, we have a lot more kids involved out at the range and that makes it even more fun.”

Trapshooting’s advantage is that there is always a target to shoot, Garrett said. “If you go duck hunting, you never know if the ducks will be there. And with trapshooting, you can tell how much better you are getting. I shot my first 25 score two years ago and shot it twice this year.”

One of the reasons Emma likes trapshooting is because it’s a sport where males and females can compete equally since physical strength isn’t a factor. She encourages other girls to get involved.

Clemens tallies team members’ scores online. Those scores are compared with other teams in the conference.

“It’s fun to watch the kids improve and how they go from having not so good shots to being great,” Clemens said. “I really enjoy working with the kids. And I try to volunteer in the community as much as I can.”

While trapshooting doesn’t require that participants be hunters, the two seem to go hand in hand. Clemens grew up “hunting anything I can” and is enthused about getting licenses to hunt both moose and elk this fall. Emma’s dad, Richard, is a trapshooter and longtime hunter who let Emma and her brother, David, tag along as young children. David, who graduated in May, was also on the trapshooting team.

“Justin initiated an annual duck hunt a few years ago, and David and I did it together the first year and the last three years it was Emma and me,” Richard said. “Even before Justin got the high school team going, Emma would bug me to quit working so we could go to trap night.”

With firearm usage, safety is a concern. Both fathers say they began teaching safety before their children were even old enough to hold a gun. “The kids get safety pounded into their heads,” Clemens asserted.

The Mongeons and Arsteins, who are members of North Central Electric Cooperative, enjoy many aspects of hunting, among them the quality family times and rewards in having a lifelong hobby. Bill rents out a cabin on their land to out-of-state hunters. Their family has benefited from the relationships that have evolved over the years.

Bill, Richard and Justin are members of the wildlife club, which helped finance the high school team. A $600 Operation Round Up grant provided team vests, hearing and eye protection for team members. (Operation Round Up is a rural electric cooperative program where members round up their monthly bill to the nearest dollar. Accumulated funds are overseen and allocated to community causes by a board of cooperative members.)

In Rolette, trapshooting is more than just another high school sport. “There are people of all ages that go to the range regularly,” Bill said. “It’s something to do with others in the community and enjoy the camaraderie. Then when your kids share your interest, it becomes even more fun!”

Candi Helseth is a freelance writer from Minot.

Facts about teams

The North Dakota State High School Clay Target League is under the umbrella of the USA High School Clay Target League. Joe Courneya is the North Dakota league state director. Here are some basic facts about the school teams:

• Trapshooting as a school sport is approved by the school board, but does not require any school funds, administration, equipment, facility or maintenance. Schools may choose to support the self-funded teams by offering lettering programs and yearbook inclusion. Trapshooting is not a “sanctioned sport” by the North Dakota High School Activities Association. However, organizers hope that NDHSAA will eventually sanction the tournament as Minnesota has.

• Team members are required to take a hunter’s safety course prior to joining the team. They practice at shooting ranges operated by the local gun or wildlife club. In 2015, more than 11,000 students from 295 Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota high school teams participated.

• No team travel is required. The spring season culminates with each league’s state tournament, which team members have the option of attending.

• The USA High School Clay Target League's mission is to emphasize and promote the positive influence shooting sports can have throughout an individual’s life.

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