WHEN ERIN JOHNSON SET OUT TO START A CLAY TARGET SHOOTING TEAM at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS), she wanted a minimum of five athletes, and hoped she might get as many as 15. The vice president of student affairs at the two-year technical college, which sits on the southern border of North Dakota and Minnesota, had encouraged staff to find more ways for students to get involved on campus. Johnson, a high school trap coach for the last seven years, thought bringing the sport to the college level made sense. “We know for students that the first eight weeks are really critical for getting them adjusted to college life,” Johnson says. “And one of the most exciting things about this sport, is it’s within the first eight weeks. So for the students that are coming on campus, they really get immersed in an activity right away where they get to meet a lot of different people.”

But she didn’t realize how popular the program would be. Within one day of sending an email to the student body to gauge interest in the program before the start of the 2019 school year, she had 20 responses. The next day, she had 30. By the time she arranged a meeting on the second day of school to discuss the new program, she had a room packed with more than 40 students. More than two-thirds of the team’s roster participated in high school clay target teams and many had experience hunting, which is popular in the area. “So then I started panicking because I thought, I only have help from one other person,” Johnson says. “We’re going to have to have four stations of trap going at a time. So I mentioned that at a meeting with the local gun club and right away I had board members that were saying that they wanted to help—they wanted to make this happen.”

The NDSCS Clay Target Team was born, competing within the Minnesota College Athletic Conference (MCAC) through the USA College Clay Target League’s virtual system, just as is done at the high school level. In fact, many of the team’s athletes, such as Occupational Therapy Assistant student Linnea Fronning, competed in the League at the high school level. “I was involved in the Battle Lake High School trap team for four years and it quickly became my favorite sport,” Fronning says. “When I heard NDSCS was starting a team I knew I had to join.” Being a part of the team helped Fronning get to know students from other programs, she says. That’s common feedback from students involved in the team’s first year.

“You really got to know some of the students and you could see some of the
friendships that were formed,” Johnson says. “I had some students who commented that they would have never met some of these people, because if you’re in a certain department, you often head to your classes with the same students each day.” The program has also been beneficial to students who commute to campus, helping them to feel more connected, she says. Johnson’s team includes one student team manager, one range safety officer, and eight volunteer coaches—a mix of college instructors and members of Head of the Red Gun & Archery Club in nearby Breckenridge.

The team shoots every Tuesday during its six-week season, and has helped rejuvenate the gun club, which has also seen a boost in activity in recent years from high school teams. “The gun club was very accommodating,” Johnson says. “They provided experienced coaching that really helped.” The NDSCS team finished fifth in its division during the first season, but had some standout individual athletes. A highlight, Johnson says, was taking 20 team members to the MCAC Clay Target Fall Championship. There, NDSCS students Arianne Warmbold and Charlie Boldingh were the school’s top athletes finishing fifth and 10 th respectively in their divisions.

Johnson’s goals for the future are incorporating more practices and working on team-building to help students get to know each other earlier in the season. She’s also working on fundraising efforts to help keep registration costs down. And for high school students planning to enroll at NDSCS, team members like Fronning say there’s always room for more on the range. “Join the team,” she says. “You won’t regret it.”