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More than 80 young trap shooters who have been involved in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program participated in major world shooting tournaments in southern Illinois over two weeks in early August, and several returned home with championships or high honors.
The AIM Grand National Youth Trap Shooting Championship and 123rd Grand American World Trapshooting Championship included youths and young adults over a 16-day period in Sparta, the site of maybe the most massive shooting complex in the world. The 3.5-mile-long shooting area at the World Shooting and Recreation Complex, carved out of a closed coal strip mine, has 120 individual shooting stands – for comparison, the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex in Jacksonville, where the AYSSP regionals and state championships are held each spring, has 14 trap shooting stations.
AIM stands for academics, integrity and marksmanship. AIM is the youth portion of the Amateur Trapshooting Association.
Shooters who had a connection to AYSSP took home 28 trophies – 22 of them for individual achievements and six for teams. The categories were Pre-Sub, Sub-Junior, Junior AA and Junior Gold (age 18-21).
Paragrould’s Jasa Reed, who shot for Black River Trap and Skeet Club, was champion in the Junior Gold Singles B Class and Junior Gold Singles Lady Champion. Over the final two days of shooting, she hit 199 of 200 targets.
Arkansas team entries swept the Junior AA class with Harrisburg taking first, Jonesboro Trap Team finishing second and the Craighead Claycrushers landing third. Also, Black River Trap and Skeet Club was third among all teams in Pre-Sub, Craighead Claycrushers were third in Sub-Junior, and Black River’s college-age shooters took second place in Junior Gold. Black River’s ace older shooters were: Rhet Baxley, who attends the University of Arkansas; Clay Smith and Chandler Conyers, students at Arkansas State University; Weston Horner of Black River Technical College; and Ryan Bowen, who is out of school.
Bowen was runner-up in his individual classification in Junior Gold. Also for individual honors, Black River’s Eli Wright was Pre-Sub Class C champion in singles.
Other individual standouts included Harrisburg’s William Mahan, who hit 198 of 200 targets over two days, as the runner-up in Sub-Junior AAA category; and Jonesboro Trap Team’s Dylan Norman, who also missed just two of 200 targets, as runner-up in Junior AA. Harrisburg’s winning team in Junior AA was composed of William Mahan, Henry Mayhan, Connor Wilson, Luke Clayton and Jordan Miller.
The Jonesboro Trap Team’s “Uncoachables,” who tied Harrisburg but fell to second in the tiebreaker, were made up of Hunter Bray, Dylan Norman, Granger Wilson, Tyler Adams and Aidan Masters. Hunter Bray landed eighth individually in Sporting Clays overall out of about 200 participants, hitting 190 of 200 targets.
Jonesboro’s Sub-Junior squad “Smoke Screen” included Mason Bray, Collier Evans, Mason Waln, Baron Bean and Talon Pickle and placed sixth in its division.
The Craighead Claycrushers took three teams to the Grand Nationals. The Junior Red squad, third behind Harrisburg and Jonesboro in Junior Class AA, was composed of Cole Cureton, Luke Hiser, Blaine West, Lucas Primm and Hunter Walpole. The Sub-Junior White squad finished third in the Sub-Junior Class C and was led by Corbit Hiser, Cole Payton, Lucy Pugh, Chase Yancey and Carleigh Hiser. The Claycrushers’ Sub-Junior Black Squad was led by Cannon Yearta, Sam Sloan, Ace Spangler, Austin Statler and Maddox Cline. Individually, Ace Spangler took third place in Sub-Junior Class C.
Jim Clifton, who coaches the junior high and high school AYSSP teams in Corning, perennial contenders for AYSSP titles each spring, and who oversees the Black River Trap and Skeet Club, said, “We took 15 (to Sparta). We all shoot at the trap club at Black River. Every kid that I have who shoots also shoots in AYSSP or did before graduating high school. I took them up to 21 years old – my youngest was 11 and we went up to 21 with the team this year.”
With one female and 14 male shooters on the Black River club team that traveled to Sparta, Clifton said, they went by the team name “Beauty and the Beasts.” The Pre-Sub Beauty and the Beasts team was third in the division, and team members were Eli Wright, Jagger George, Jackson Jett, Bailey Catt and Christopher Scrogins.
Jimmy Self, the AYSSP coordinator for the AGFC, attended the event, saying, “We just mainly go to support our Arkansas competitors. We’re just wanting to teach them all how to do it and create more recreational shooters and show them there is a lot of shooting beyond AYSSP. They are competing against the best shooters in world trap shooting.”
Joey Glaub, program coordinator for year-old, city-owned Jonesboro Shooting Sports Complex, took shooters from the Jonesboro area – Valley View, Nettleton and other surrounding towns – to Sparta.
“There were some others from across the state,” Glaub, who has coached the Jonesboro Trap Team for 10 years, said. “(Northeast Arkansas was) probably a little more well represented as far as numbers from Arkansas.
He said Sparta, with a population of a little more than 3,000, at least doubled and maybe quadrupled in size with all the entries, the parents and other supporters for the AIM championships from July 29-Aug. 13. He likes to bring youths, and parents, to the massive facility and enjoy their reactions to seeing it for the first time.
“This was our most successful trip that I’ve been involved in, tying for first,” he said, dating his first trip to 2016 when his son was old enough to compete. “We had finished second and third in our age group in prior visits but never tying for first,” he said. “I was very happy. Two out of the three squads brought home trophies. And not only did they bring home trophies, my Junior Gold squad was second overall and Pre-Sub won overall.
“The coolest part of that was, in Junior AA the first, second and third places were from right here in NEA. Most of those kids started shooting and competing in AYSSP, which I believe gives them the edge when we continue the season through the summer and go to the AIM Grand.”
Black River’s Clifton, who has taken teams to the AIM championships every year since 2014, said, “AYSSP is a great starter program. If it wasn’t for it, the kids wouldn’t be shooting. My daughter (Katie Clifton), this is the first year she hasn’t gone to Sparta since 2014, she couldn’t fit it into her schedule. She’s a pre-vet major at Mississippi State and works very hard to keep her grades up to stay in the program, so she couldn’t go. But while she was shooting, she received around $12,500 in scholarships for trap-shooting.”
Katie Clifton was the 2020 valedictorian at Corning and also participated in basketball and tennis as well as trap shooting with ASSYP.
“We’ve had a good turnout of shooters (in the northeast region) and we’ve been very happy with that, been very pleased,” Jim Clifton added. “It doesn’t happen without putting the effort into it. We try to put the time into it to make it happen. Here it is, this time of year, and we’re working on the trap season. We never stop what we’re doing. And what I think they get is, it makes them a better person. It instills teamwork and it makes them be accountable to their friends … To me it builds character within them. As a general rule, the trap shooters are a good group of people. We don’t worry about them getting into trouble, stuff like that.”