What began as a venture club has transformed into a full-blown high school team for Fort Cherry Junior-Senior High
By Jessi Pierce
Dayne Crowley began to notice a trend in the local Venture Club in McDonald, Pennsylvania, when his McDonald’s Sportsmen’s Association started sponsoring a crew roughly 15 years ago. While many of the Venture Club participants were eager to partake in a variety of offerings, including youth ministry and outdoor adventures, he saw nearly two-thirds of its members had a keen interest in shooting sports.
Crowley and association members formed an ATA Aim Team for eight years until he caught wind about the Pennsylvania State High School Clay Target League nearly four years ago. Thus, the Fort Cherry High School trap team was born.
Like most activities in the rural Pennsylvania city, which sits about 25 miles west of Pittsburgh, the Fort Cherry High School trap shooting squad began recruiting by word of mouth, reaching beyond the borders of the county into neighboring communities who had kids looking for a new sport to explore.
“Our team started small, with about 17 on the roster, but the kids just kept telling people about it,” explained Crowley. “Year two we had about 25 kids. We just wrapped up our third season in the League this past year and our current roster is at about 32 total athletes, grades 7-12, and I would say about one-eighth of the team is from neighboring high schools.
“We had one gal who graduated this past spring who traveled about 50 miles one way to come shoot for our school thanks to the legacy of our former program and what it’s grown to now.”
Fort Cherry High School competes as a Class A school in athletics, graduating anywhere between 70 and 80 students each year. With 32 participants on the Fort
Cherry High School trap shooting roster it boasts as one of the school’s largest teams narrowly behind the football squad.
The appeal to joining the team, Crowley explains, is two-fold.
“We are in a very rural area,” said Crowley, who grew up in McDonald himself and hosts a four-week trap shooting fundamentals class every Wednesday night for kids both interested in joining the team, and those just interested in firearm safety.
“Half of the district is farm communities, and hunting and fishing and trapping are always very popular among kids and their families. I know, one of the best items of feedback I’ve gotten from parents, is how comfortable they’ve gotten with their sons or daughters demonstrating and practicing firearm safety thanks to the trap shooting team.
“The other thing that seems to attract kids is those who couldn’t really find another sport that interested them. Parents want their kids to be involved in something, and kids want to make friends and have some fun.”
The McDonald’s Sportsmen’s Association, which provides the two shooting fields for the team, has also generated a charitable foundation that helps defer costs
to student athletes participating on the Fort Cherry High School trap shooting team. Crowley said they have been able to defray costs nearly 50 percent, with students and their families paying about $300 per season to cover ammunition, vests, range bags, targets, and other fees.
“It’s important that we can help make this affordable because it truly helps teach these kids life lessons in responsibility, accountability, and much more,” said Crowley. “Watching these kids grow and learn in a new sport makes me incredibly proud.”
For Crowley, it’s been tremendous to see the growth not only from club to team, but from each of his student athletes. And while the team is not partaking in the League this fall, they’ve begun a youth organization to continue to introduce trap shooting to kids in the area.
“We get together once per week and learn how to refine our shots, and the proper way to stare while you shoot,” Crowley said. “It’s all about playing some games, learning new skills and practicing firearm safety with some beautiful guns. I am honored to be a part of their learning.”