In the year 2000, Jim Sable had sold his advertising agency and retired. As an avid clay target shooter with over four decades of experience as a firearm safety training instructor, Jim had planned to spend his time relaxing at the lake and shooting at the local range. One day at the local gun club in Plymouth, Minnesota, he noticed something—the members of the club weren’t getting any younger.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, youth participation at local clubs was a rarity. With an aging demographic, overall participation in clay target shooting sports had been in decline for decades, and shooting ranges were closing at an alarming rate. It quickly became apparent that unless something was done to attract younger shooters, the future of shooting sports could very well be in jeopardy.
Sable realized that the answer to these decades-long problems was to start a program dedicated to increasing youth participation in shooting sports.
KIDS, GUNS, AND SCHOOLS
Jim knew he faced an uphill battle to introduce youth to shooting sports. Competing against other sports, television, and videogames would be difficult, and just getting youth off the couch and outside would be a challenge.
Additionally, with the political climate, many people would cringe with concern when kids, guns, and schools were used together in a sentence, but not Jim Sable. Jim was an experienced marketing and advertising leader in Minnesota for decades, and he had a plan.
You see, Jim was fond of a particular quote from a famous bank robber named Willie Sutton. In the early 1930s, Willie Sutton was caught stealing money from a bank. When asked by the press why he robbed banks, he said, “That’s where the money is.”
When Jim was asked where to find kids to participate in the League, he said, “At school. Because that’s where the kids are.”
Unlike Willie Sutton’s misguided philosophy, Jim’s idea of school involvement was essential to the League’s success.
Early on, Jim spent time speaking with students, asking them what they would like to see in the League. He also worked closely with school administrators and leaders at the state high school athletic association to help the League “look, taste, smell, feel and sound” like a school-sponsored activity.
All of us have experienced the massive positive impact the League has had on all of its participants—kids, families, education communities, shooting ranges, manufacturers, retailers, hospitality providers, state agencies, and many more.
I have had the pleasure of working with Jim for 28 years. He first hired me in 1990 as a creative director in the agency he and his wife Sharon owned. We worked together on various projects after his retirement, and when Jim came out of retirement in 2008 to start the nonprofit Minnesota State High School Clay Target League, we started working together again. It has been quite a ride.
Since its inaugural day, more than 72,000 student athletes, 18,000 volunteer coaches, 500 shooting ranges, and 1,000 high schools have participated in the high school clay target league. With more than 40 million shots fired during the League’s seasons with no reported injuries, it continues to be the safest sport in high school.
In 2020, the USA Clay Target League is expected to be the largest clay target shooting sport organization in the world.Congratulations, Jim, on your re-retirement! The entire shooting sports world will endure for many generations to come thanks to your concept, dedication, and leadership.