It’s no secret Florida is a football state. But football isn’t for everyone, and everyone can’t play football. However, Sunshine State students with a desire to learn and a firearms safety certification can participate in the Florida State High School Clay Target League (FLSHSCTL). The FLSHSCTL provides a safe, comfortable, and positive team environment for student athletes to compete and learn lifelong skills.
That’s what drew Kenney Yale to the sport and why he became head coach of the McKeel Academy of Technology Clay Target Team. McKeel Academy in Lakeland is one of four teams that make up the League’s growing presence in Florida. “I am very much an advocate for anything that pertains to outdoor activities, and something that allows kids to do something other than the typical sports,” said Yale.
At McKeel, students in grades 8–12 can compete. The program joined the FLSHSCTL in 2019 and in 2020 the program had 26 team members. “We were actually the first team to attempt to join in 2017 but other teams in the state were not ready to join with us,” Yale said. “We joke around and say we won the first state championship since we were the only team.” Yale says those new to the McKeel Academy program are often surprised at how much—and how quickly—they enjoy being a part of the team, and participating in shooting sports. This includes student athletes, parents, and volunteers. “Every year we have new parents and shooters join the team, and they are always very excited,” Yale said. “I have to make sure that they don’t jump out and buy the most expensive shotgun as they are just beginning. This year we have more than doubled our numbers from the past and parents are volunteering more than ever.”
Kady Batson is one of the top guns on the team. She can consistently shoot 25 out of 25 in both skeet and trap. Batson likes that she is part of something unique—McKeel is currently the only clay target team in Central Florida—and the fact that the team doesn’t have to travel to other schools to compete. All competitions are held at Imperial Polk Gun Club in Winter Haven.
Batson’s favorite style is skeet, but she also likes the pace of trap. “I like how you have different birds at each station,” Batson said. “The birds come
from either the low house or the high house and at some stations, you get a bird from each house. Station 5 low keeps me on my toes. I’m a lefty and I think that station might be a bit more challenging for lefties. I like the quickness of trap. You can shoot with a beginner and it’s still pretty quick.”
Luca McCoy has been consistent in both trap and skeet and is a great mentor to other shooters, says Yale. “I see him being a couch down the road,” added Yale.
Yale believes the sport will continue to grow in Florida and hopes the League size doubles or even triples in the coming years. “I think what is unique about clay target as a sport is it is a team activity, but it depends on individual talents,” Yale said. “We teach our kids to share information, whether it’s about what type of shotgun is being used, what type of ammo they’re using, what works with their stances, or anything else like that.”
The sport is competitive and rewarding when one achieves success, says Batson. And the fact that everyone cheers and helps each other is a huge plus. “Each time you bust a bird it feels really good,” Batson said. “And everyone is so encouraging in this sport. I’ve participated in many other sports and this one is the best with adults encouraging you. From all the parents to my coaches, it’s so nice. Even when you aren’t shooting your best, they are still happy for you.”