Like many schools across the country, it seemed Tomah High School was readymade for a trap shooting team.
Hunting and clay target shooting have long been popular in the rural Wisconsin town, about 40 miles east of LaCrosse. So it’s not surprising that when a trap team for middle school and high school students was introduced five years ago, it attracted nearly 60 participants right away.
“I think what that really told us and told the school district is that there’s a group of kids out there that want to be involved in something, but it isn’t necessarily typical sports or show choir or drama club,” says Terri Whereatt, manager of the team, an assistant coach, and a special education teacher in the Tomah district. “So we were really excited and parents were really excited that we were able to offer this to the kids and allow so many to experience the opportunity.”
The Tomah Timberwolves team got its start when the president of one of the area’s gun clubs learned about the Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League and approached Whereatt, an avid shooter, about the possibility of a team.
“So I along with some parents put a feeler out there and I ended up going to the school board and asking if we could be approved and supported by them,” Whereatt says.
The program was approved with the caveat that it needed to provide its own funding, which it has done through a variety of community fundraisers, such as helping out at the American Legion Fish Fry and the region’s Cranberry Festival. That helps to offset the cost of shells and clay targets for student athletes.
Though the team offers a few loaner firearms for students who need them, trap team members are generally expected to provide their own. That’s not a problem since about 95 percent of students who join the team have prior shooting experience, Whereatt says. That experience, along with guidance from a stable of about 25 volunteer coaches, has translated into consistent success for the Timberwolves.
In the Spring League, the team has three second-place conference nishes, a first place conference finish last year, and a state tournament win in 2016. Both the varsity and junior varsity overall high shooters came from Tomah that year. The team also has two straight conference wins since joining the Fall League in 2017.
And eager to get in on the first National Championship last year, Tomah sent a squad to Michigan and placed 11th out of 175 teams.
Tomah junior Zoey Ludeking, 16, was a part of the National Championship team. She shot 94 out of 100 at the event, an impressive outing for an athlete with a high score of 13 of 25 during her first year on the team as a middle schooler.
“My coaches have been really encouraging and they helped me with my struggles early on. That’s what made me keep at it,” Ludeking says. “My confidence level went up and that really helped with my consistency.”
Ludeking says she only knew her brother when she started on the team, but has since made many friends. Trap is her primary sport and she’s become a great advocate of joining the League.
“I hope to encourage more people to go out for trap because it’s a great opportunity for both boys and girls,” she says.
The Timberwolves practice on Mondays and Thursdays at Camp Douglas Sportsmans Club—the team’s primary range—and the Monroe County Rod and Gun Club. Whereatt says the coaches focus on three simple things: safety, strategies for becoming a better marksman, and having fun.
The team ends each season with a “fun shoot” that incorporates a variety of shooting games for prizes. It’s a day to celebrate camaraderie and the joy of the sport.
Looking ahead, Whereatt hopes to maintain the team’s numbers and continue to see students take pride in clay target shooting.“The Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League has been an amazing thing for not only our Tomah kids, but for everyone involved,” she says. “These kids are the future of our gun clubs. As a team manager and coach, I am proud to be a part of it.”