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Here in Arkansas, many student athletes and their families are focusing on safety, proper training, sport and togetherness with the help of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program.
Many parents are getting involved and Chuck Woodson, the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Coordinator, stated that it isn’t unusual to see parents as coaches or just as helpers with the teams.
“This generation has lost connection with shooting. In the past, it was a necessity for a father to teach his kids how to hunt, fire a gun, and shoot a bow. We’ve lost that over the years.”
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program in 2006 with the goal of improving firearm safety and providing an opportunity for student athletes to get outdoors and have fun. Having just completed their 8th tournament season, Woodson says the program is doing just that and more.
“Most kids in the program have access to guns within ten minutes of their home. Either they own a gun or their parent or grandparent does.” Woodson stated when asked if kids must supply their own gun for the program. “These kids have access to guns so this program helps to teach firearm safety and all participants must pass a hunter’s ed course. This program is making for a safer generation and it’s also providing an opportunity for mom and dad to get involved.”
Teams are typically formed by schools, churches, and groups like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4H, although anyone who meets the requirements may form a team. Coaches, after passing an extensive background check, receive a series of training and practice sessions on the range with Chuck Woodson.
The AYSSP currently has approximately 250 scholastic teams and about 100 non-scholastic teams around the state. In the current season, 5800 student athletes participated in the program and competed in local, regional, and state competitions. Even more impressive is that over 1200 of the student athletes are girls.
Woodson stated that trap shooting is a sport that appeals to the athlete who enjoys the outdoors and competition but isn’t necessarily interested in sports like football and basketball. Shooting requires a different type of athleticism which takes a lot of practice and dedication. While he does have football and basketball players on the teams, shooting is a wonderful opportunity for a different type of athlete to shine. He also mentioned that is isn’t unusual to see one of the girls on the team consistently outshoot the big tough football players.
In addition to it being a great sport, the AYSSP hopes to bring to light the wonderful educational benefits that come through trap shooting. The program boasts a wonderful curriculum that has been approved by the Arkansas Department of Education and focuses on math, science, history and the arts. Additionally, as the program grows, scholarship opportunities begin to arise.
The Arkansas Game and Fish provides several thousand dollars in scholarships to the winning teams and the individual Champion of Champions at the state tournament which is held every June.
Several area colleges and universities are also getting in on the action. Schools around the state such as the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University, Lyons College and the University of the Ozarks are building shooting programs and offering scholarships to student athletes. In addition to scholarships, opportunities for participation in national competitions and even the Junior Olympics and Olympics are a real possibility for students who participate in AYSSP.
The new state-of-the-art Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex which just opened in Jacksonville will be the home to all of the AYSSP tournaments in the future. The range opened in early 2014 and includes 14 trap fields, three skeet overlays, three lit fields, two pavilions, a fishing lake, and a 5,100 square foot clubhouse that includes a learning center. There are future plans to add a 3D Archery Range and RV/Camper sites.
Shooting sports are growing by leaps and bounds here in Arkansas. They provide an opportunity for youth to learn firearms safety and a unique opportunity to connect with the outdoors and maybe even with their families.
If you are interested in finding a local team you can connect with AYSSP on Facebook or on their site for all of the latest information. If you are interested in coaching a team you can contact Chuck Woodson of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org. Coaching sessions are scheduled for September and October.
The next AYSSP season begins in February of 2015. Will your kids be joining?
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