Something was missing. Lora Hinz knew it and resigned herself to accept it. There was no choice.
“I tried for a few years, like in middle school with different sports, but I’m a farm kid, personally,” she said. “And so, going to all the games was kind of a problem.”
But then “Spirit Week” came along during her freshman year at Weston High School, and it did as intended. It lifted her spirits.
“A few of the trap shooting kids wore their trap vests,” Hinz said of “Spirit Week.” “And I asked them about (the vests), and they said, ‘Oh yeah, we shoot trap.’
“And I came home and asked my dad if I could join trap. He was really excited to hear that. I was then able to contact our local coach and he got me all signed up.”
Today, this farm kid proudly walks around school in her letter jacket, just like many other high school athletes.
“It gives me a lot of pride because it's something that I thought I would never be able to do in my life,” Hinz said of being on a high school sports team.
“And all of a sudden, I get so much help and so many congratulations shooting trap. And it gives me something to kind of put effort into. It’s like a free time, like all sports the kids play. I shoot because I like trap. And so, it's a kind of like my little relief time where I can just be myself and be good at what I do.”
The Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League (WISHCTL) is a subsidiary of the USA Clay Target League, which began in Minnesota in 2001.
Through 2008, it consisted of three teams and 30 participants. Today it has 1625 teams with over 47,000 participants in 35 states this year.
The WISHCTL started in 2015, and Weston is one of 116 state school districts with teams competing.
The USA Clay Target League said it’s the fastest-growing sport around, and it’s hard to argue for many reasons.
“In our league, there's no benchwarmers, so everybody is an important participant,” said Matt Schneider, co-director of the WISHCTL. “Everybody’s scores count.
“The league really promotes the idea of it not necessarily having to compete against the other sports as well. It’s supposed to be flexible. I know a lot of school districts in our area have very flexible times for the students to come and get their targets in. They don't have to choose between being on the clay target team and being on the baseball team or the softball team or the track team. They're able to do this in conjunction with other sports, and most of them double up.”
And it’s safe. The USA Clay Target League said that since the league began, there have been no reported injuries.
“No concussions, broken arms, anything like that,” said Schneider.
One other thing, many of the schools in the WISHCTL have put this sport on par with the rest of the school sports.
“A few years ago, it was more of a club sport in a lot of schools,” said Schneider, “and it seems that more and more schools are elevating it to being a lettering sport rather than a club sport.”
To be eligible, students must complete either the Wisconsin DNR Hunter Safety Education Course or the league’s SAFE Certification. Aside from league competition, there is a two-day state tournament in Rome, Wisconsin, and a national tournament. Participants can also earn scholarships, either from colleges or local shooting clubs. Both Schneider and Dan Imhoff, the other co-director, said the league has been important for many shooting clubs.
“If we're not growing the sport, much like anything else, it would eventually go away,” Imhoff said. “So, it's not just getting the kids out there to participate, it's getting them to be part of the local clubs and to ensure that some of these clubs stay vital moving forward.”
It has been a mutually beneficial relationship, according to Hinz.
“I decided to join the summer league down at our club,” she said after her freshman year. “And we had a bunch of the older guys in the community who really boosted my confidence and gave me tips.”
She, in turn, has passed on those tips to teammates and competitors.
“It’s amazing just how well we all work together, and it feels less like a competition and more like teamwork,” she said. “It’s kind of like playing on a team; you want to do your part. But you all help each other grow.
“Like I helped this one young girl from Kickapoo, and now she’s the top female in the state this year. And it’s just really cool to see that because you can just be like, ‘Hey, I taught them a few tricks and oh, I shoot with them all the time.’ It’s just such a good community.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article had the incorrect number of schools participating in the USA Clay Target League. The error has been corrected. (May 17, 2023)
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