Cole Woods kept both eyes peeled on the five athletes in front of him, then turned to peek at another five just off to his right.
He was focused on their technique, their swing motion and their instantaneous, hit-or-miss results.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!
“Just focus on the target and let your hands do the work,” Cole instructed five members of the 43-athlete strong Central/Logan trap shooting team.
“Trust your hands.”
It has taken a lot of trust to get to this point for the Central/Logan team, which also includes students from Westby. Trust from parents that their sons and daughters would be in a safe, supervised atmosphere where they would learn about the fast-growing sport of trap shooting and enjoy its benefits.
Trust from the longstanding Chaseburg Rod & Gun Club, a nearly 1,000-member club, that this partnership would benefit the fledgling high school sport as well as perhaps provide future club members with a never-dying passion for the sport.
Trust from the La Crosse School District and the school board, that this sport, a sport involving firearms, was a safe and positive experience.
“That was part of the difficult sell as you hear all the negative about guns and schools all the time, so a sport that involves guns, it took awhile,” said Joe Beran, Central’s activities director.
“A credit to (Superintendent Randy Nelson), he wanted to do his research on it before they could give the OK for us to do it. We have the school board’s blessing on this, and it is just a great deal.”
A growing deal.
Called the fastest-growing high school sport in Wisconsin, there are 1,941 students from 78 high schools that are participating in the Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League (WISHSCTL) spring season, which is 10 weeks long and includes five weeks of competitive shooting nights.
Those numbers are up significantly from a year ago, as there were 65 teams with 1,449 members in 2017.
In addition to the Central/Logan team, which has grown from 15 members three years ago to 33 last year to 43 in this, its third year, there is also a team from Aquinas that shoots at the Chaseburg Rod & Club.
In the big picture, however, the teams are just starting to garner attention from those outside the shooting circles.
“Somebody (at school) today was like, ‘What do you throw up, birds?’” said Max Earley, a Central High School junior and three-year member of the team.
“The sport will get bigger and bigger as the years go on and people find out more about it. The growth, even at this point, is phenomenal. I was super surprised by this year when we had like 50 people. I almost couldn’t believe it.”
The Central/Logan team is not comprised solely of high school-age students either. It is open to middle school students who have earned a Hunter Education Safety Certificate from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Aubrey Hass, a 12-year-old seventh-grade student at Longfellow, tagged along with her dad, Aaron Hass, and grandfather, Randy Hass, when they went trap shooting and hunting.
When she received a particular birthday present, well, it was game on.
If you shoot too quickly, you might think your chances are better. They are not.
“I got a shotgun for my birthday, then that was it,” Hass said, breaking into a big smile. “My grandpa shot (trap) for a long time, and my dad has shot all of his life. They got me started.
“Everybody says, ‘Oh, that’s easy. You just pull the trigger.’ It was very frustrating at first, but it was still fun. There are all these supportive coaches out here that help me keep my attitude up and help me keep pushing forward.”
Hitting a clay target that reaches 40 to 44 mph after being flung out of a trap house is far from easy. It takes practice, it takes timing, it takes patience.
And it takes a great amount of skill.
Helping develop all of the above is what gives Randy Hass, a lifetime member of the Chaseburg Rod & Gun Club, great satisfaction. Hass is one of the key people involved in helping form the partnership between the high school team and the club.
“Most of the guys who are volunteering here are valid trap shooters. There is a certain etiquette to the sport, and we teach that to the kids,” said Randy Hass, who has shot trap for more than 40 years. “It is the way the sport is played, and we are pretty passionate about it.
“I like to have some students that basically have never shot before for whatever reason. They are not sportsmen and don’t want to hunt. They just want to get into the shooting sports aspect of it. Those are the kids I really like to have. It gives me a good feeling when I see a kid struggling, and I can pick up on something he or she is doing wrong. I correct them, and they start doing better.”
While Woods is the coach for the Central/Logan team, there are more than a dozen others, mainly club members, who help out. There are also trained range safety officers, Woods said, who are at every shoot observing the competition.
“The range safety officers, that is what their job is, to watch like a hawk and make sure everyone is doing it safely,” Woods said. “We have five of them and that is their job, safety. The club coordinates that and has sent some more guys to get certified.”
Those involved believe the sport will continue to grow as word circulates as to what the high school teams are about, the state competitions that are available, as well as what leagues and opportunities are out there after high school.
“You get a lot of kids, kids that shoot with us, they are outdoorsmen and are not really involved with other sports. This is their clique, and they have been itching to do something like this,” Woods said. “I get all these parents coming up to me saying they wish they had something like this when they were in high school.”
The exposure, in turns, helps fuel interest in the Chaseburg Rod & Gun Club, Woods said.
“When we opened it up (possibility of a high school team) to the club and asked them if they would be interested, they were all for it,” said Woods, also a club member. “The future of this club, you are looking at it right here with these kids.
“If we don’t keep it going and keep youth involved, that is how we keep the club going.”
Jeff Brown can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jeff_brownLCT