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Amid high humidity and overcast skies, youth participants from across the Palmetto State displayed with pride their marksmanship skills of trap and skeet shooting at the South Carolina State High School Clay Target League, SCSHSCTL 2019 State Tournament on Saturday, June 8, at Mid-Carolina Gun Club in Calhoun County.

T&D Region high schools joining in the competition were Orangeburg Preparatory Schools and Jefferson Davis Academy.

OP won the state title in both trap and skeet shooting, with JDA finishing second in the skeet competition.

The event was sponsored by Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, SCHEELS Sporting Goods, Sportsman’s Guide and Walker’s, a provider of hearing protection.

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Asked why he was spending his Saturday at the range, Cole Creech, a 12-year old rising seventh-grader at JDA had a simple reply.

“I grew up hunting; I’ve been shooting since I could hold a gun," Creech said. "I enjoy shooting and wanted to be part of a team.”

The SCSHSCTL is a member of the USA High School Clay Target League, a division of the non-profit USA Clay Target League. The league is the independent provider of clay target shooting sports as an extracurricular co-ed and adaptive activity for high schools and students in grades 6-12.

“The organization’s priorities are safety, fun and marksmanship, in that order,” said the current South Carolina league director, Brett Allen, who added that each participant in the high school league must complete a league and state-approved hunter education course.

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Justin Gleaton, the OP Shotgun Team head coach, said, “The parents love it because it’s a blessing for them to be able to get their kids, who may not otherwise be athletically inclined, involved in a sport that not only gets them out of the house doing something constructive, but also offers gun safety training and scholarship opportunities for careers in outdoor and wildlife avenues.”

“I honestly believe that if you teach young people proper gun handling and firearm safety, I don’t believe there would be as much gun violence or as many school shootings as there are today,” Gleaton said. “When most of us were younger, we learned firearm handling and gun safety from our parents and grandparents who took us hunting. Now because of schedules or lack of time, there just is not as much of that still going on.

“Every time we meet, safety is the number one thing we ingrain in kids' minds. Each shooter participant has to lead a safety meeting during the season. If he or she misses something, the others are quick to point out the mistake.”

Gleaton said the OP season start-up meeting is usually held in October.

“When I am out there on the range, it makes me feel calm," said Cora Robb, a 16-year-old member of the OP team. "I know I have the support of my teammates.

"I want to go to college; it has been a dream of mine since I was small and the scholarships offered by the league are a big plus.”

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Robb also admitted that, with her competitive streak, she wants to be better than her big brother, Daniel.

“Our goal is for the students to have fun in a safe, supportive environment," said Julie Robinson, co-coach at JDA. "As coaches, we can’t be out there on the field with them, but they can coach each other. That aspect promotes good sportsmanship and teamwork.”

Cooper Gleaton, a recent graduate of OP who has been competing for six years, said, “I’d recommend this sport to anyone because it teaches a lot about gun safety and it’s a mental sport; you have to know about angles, wind speed, timing and lead -- how far out you have to be in front of a moving target before you shoot."

Unable to continue as a participant in the high school league, Gleaton, who has been accepted to Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College this fall, says he plans on joining his parents, Justin and Dena Gleaton, as an assistant coach to continue mentoring his younger teammates.

In the inaugural year of the SCSHSCTL, there were only two participating high schools. The number jumped to 12 this year, said Allen. He added that there are other organizations that have clay target leagues, such as SCDNR and the 4H, but this one is 100-percent school sponsored.

“The league continues to be the fastest-growing activity in South Carolina schools,” said John Nelson, president of the SCSHSCTL, who is very excited to see the state embrace the sport as it has.

Allen agrees.

“This is an all-inclusive sport that allows boys and girls to compete on the same field with no bench warmers," Allen said. "Everyone gets to participate and has the same opportunities to practice which makes them better marksmen.

“One doesn’t need to be a world-class athlete to participate and it’s a sport that someone can continue to enjoy after high school and with their family.”

Allen pointed out that most high school athletes don't get to participate in their sport after they complete high school.

“Most kids in this neck of the woods love to hunt and fish. It’s good practice for dove and duck hunting and it helps in making more responsible gun owners,” said Allen, who also serves as the clay target team coach at Conway High School.

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As shots are fired at moving clay targets, there's concentration and focus on timing on the faces of not only the active shooter, but that of the team as well. After a competitor has completed his turn on the mark for skeet shooting, where one clay target comes from the shooter’s left or right, followed in quick succession by another from the opposite direction, he or she is greeted with high-fives or fist bumps from teammates. Whether the shots are near perfect or near misses, the resounding camaraderie of team support echoes throughout tournament competition.

Nationwide, more than 32,000 students, representing more than 1,000 school-approved teams, participated in the league during the 2018-19 school year.

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For more information about SCSHSCTL, visit http://scclaytarget.com

Here are results for the Saturday, June 8, South Carolina State High School Clay Target League State Tournament for Trap and Skeet:

Trap Shooting Team Totals – Overall

1st Orangeburg Preparatory School 452; 2nd Green Sea-Floyds High School 434; 3rd  Conway High School 422; 4th Maranatha Christian School 388; 5th Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach 354

Local Standouts in Trap Shooting

High Gun Overall

1st Matthew Zeigler (OP) Score: 94

High Gun – Varsity – Male

1st Matthew Zeigler (OP) Score: 94

Also placing in the top 6 for High Gun – Varsity – Male from Orangeburg Prep were: Jace Hiers, 92; Cooper Gleaton, 91; and Daniel Robb, 88.

High Gun – Varsity – Female

1st Cora Robb (OP) Score: 82

High Gun – Jr. Varsity – Male

3rd Ayden Westbury (OP) Score: 87; 5th  Zack Felkel (OP) Score: 81

In the current 25-Straight Club for the standings in the Trap State Tournament, Jace Hiers, Cora Robb and Matthew Zeigler represent OP along with Grayson Elliott from GSFHS.      

Skeet Shooting Team Totals - Overall

1st Orangeburg Preparatory School 445; 2nd Jefferson Davis Academy 361

Local Standouts in Skeet Shooting

High Gun Overall

1st Cooper Gleaton (OP) Score: 93 

High Gun – Varsity – Male

1st Cooper Gleaton (OP) Score: 93; 2nd Daniel Robb (OP) Score: 93; 3rd Jace Hiers (OP) Score: 92; 4th Matthew Zeigler (OP) Score: 84

High Gun – Jr. Varsity – Female

1st Caroline Robinson (JDA) Score: 72

High Gun – Jr. Varsity – Male

1st Mason Wilson (JDA) Score: 83; 2nd Zack Felkel (OP) Score: 83; 3rd Seth Ray (JDA) Score: 77

Also, placing in the top 6 for High Gun – Jr. Varsity – Male from OP were: Ayden Westbury, 70; from JDA, Cole Creech, 65; and Lance Ray, 64.

High Gun - Novice – Female      

1st Gylian Googe (JDA) Score: 61; 2nd Mattalyn Ray (JDA) Score: 30

In the current 25-Straight Club standings for the Skeet State Tournament, Cooper Gleaton, Daniel Robb and Jace Hiers represent OP.

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