High School Trapshooting Catches On in Woodbury

Isaac Bibus is a member of the East Ridge High School trapshooting team.

Trivia question: What is the fastest-growing high school sport in Minnesota?

It's trapshooting, in which five shooters armed with shotguns, arranged in a semi-circle, take turns trying to hit clay pigeons thrown from a trap house.

In 2010, there were 340 students from around the state of Minnesota taking part in the sport. In 2012, there were 1,500. By 2014, there were 6,100. Last year, there were about 350 schools involved, with over 11,000 students participating.

Woodbury’s East Ridge High School has had a trap-shooting team since 2013, when four volunteer coaches started the program: John Samuelson, Barry Thompson, Scott Frabo, Mike Haas and Chris Erikstrup. (Woodbury high school also has a team, but with fewer students participating).

Advocates cite several reasons for the sport's rapid growth in Minnesota. “There's a lot of excitement around this sport,” says Chris Radecki, who succeeded the retiring Samuelson as coach of the East Ridge High School team, beginning this season.

Radecki's nephew, Wesley Eggers, was on the team for two seasons and Radecki decided to get involved. “It's really cool for schools to be offering this,” says Radecki, whose daughter plans to be a team member next year.

One of the sport of trap shooting's selling points is that it is open to a wide range of skill levels, starting with “beginners who have never shot before,” he says. “We can help them, and their parents, pick out a new gun, and get on the line and shoot for the first time. The coaches “help the beginners to get going and help them 'fine tune,' all the way through being able to compete at a high level.”

“We have some kids who are very good shooters. And we have an awesome booster club board, several of whom are assistant coaches,” says booster club president and volunteer Nate Bibus.

With its unique skill set, the sport is a great way to develop hand-eye coordination, Radecki notes, “being able to spot the clay and follow it, getting the hang of field of vision. “Learning gun safety is another benefit. “It's nice to know that safety is the number one priority, from the national level on down. There have been no [shooting] accidents, nationally, which makes it the safest high school sport. We teach the kids safety, fun and marksmanship, in that order,” Radecki explains.

Trap-shooting is also a great lifetime sport, Samuelson says. “Once you get the fundamentals down, that will carry you on.”

Another plus is “that competition is based on “a 'true' team-scoring method, which allows even a beginner to participate in the team score, without bring the whole team down. It's a unique system that gets everybody involved,” Radecki says.

Another reason for its popularity is that the sport involves a relatively minimal, two days-a-week time commitment, unlike some other school sports.

High school trap shooting has a 10-week schedule that begins in April and culminates in statewide competition. (There is also a shorter, fall season). The ERHS team – which also includes students from other area high schools – shoots weekly at the South St. Paul Rod and Gun Club.

More than 300 Woodbury area students have competed in the annual Minnesota Clay Target League championship, held each June in Alexandria. Students have the option of competing as individuals, or as a team. The top three teams in each of nine classes (based on team size) in the Alexandria event then compete in the Minnesota State High School League tourney, in Prior Lake, later in June.

Many of the students who participate come from hunting families, but there are also a number who are not involved in hunting but enjoy sport shooting, Radecki says.

The ERHS program recently added sporting clays, in which the clay pigeons come at the shooter from various directions and heights, two at a time.  It's a more accurate simulation of waterfowl flight to sharpen bird-hunting skills, Bibus says. The goal is to get both. Last season, about 20 percent of the team members competed in the more challenging sporting clays events, according to Bibus.

This season the East Ridge team will have around 50 students involved; between five and eight of those members are girls.

ERHS has sent several shooters to the annual state tournament in June in Alexandria, in which the state's top 100 high school shooters compete. Students have the option of competing on an individual and/or team basis.

Isaac Bibus, a sophomore at ERHS, has been part of the team since 8th grade. “Trap shooting, while it is a technically competitive sport with scoring, is really relaxed.  everyone has a good time, versus trying to be the best in the state. It's really good for developing hand-eye coordination, because you're using your eyes to track the target while using your hands and muscles to point and shoot the gun.

“And, even though you are shooting guns, it's a really safe sport because everyone on the team takes safety very seriously.”