THE HIGH SCHOOL CLAY TARGET TEAM AT MATER DEI HIGH SCHOOL in
Evansville, Indiana, was started in response to a common problem: dwindling membership at the local gun club. Dr. Scott Norris, a retired dentist and hall-of-fame member of the Evansville Gun Club, was not content to watch the decline as his club’s membership aged. He
wanted to do something about it. “I was very afraid that we were going to lose our gun club,” Norris says. “I was talking about it with a friend in Illinois who runs a gun club, and his message to me was that the kids are the future. So I just put my mind to it and said I’ve got to get kids interested in shooting sports.”
Norris began sending letters to local schools asking if they were interested in starting teams. Mater Dei, a Catholic school of about 500 students, was the first to respond, and a team was formed in 2018. Of the 28 students in grades 6–12 participating, maybe 10 had some clay target experience. Nobody expected the team to be competitive right out of the gates, but it wasn’t just competitive, it was dominant, winning the state championship in its first year and again in 2019. “They were all pretty doggone raw,” Norris says. “But these kids, with their young eyes, young reflexes—they caught on pretty quick and they took off.” The team brought five athletes to the USA Clay Target National Championship last year and placed fourth as a team. One student, Noah Rice, placed seventh individually.
“They just shot really well,” Norris says. “Two of them shot simply above
their head. It was a process, but working with the coaches they just about hit perfection at the end of the year.” Norris takes coaching seriously. His mantra is “see nothing but the bird.” He emphasizes settling the eyes and blocking out distractions. Keeping things positive is also important, he says, as is providing individual attention to each athlete. On the range, he’ll often stand behind each student for each shot, offering what he sees and how to improve. “I get a lot of exercise doing that,” Norris laughs. “It’s just my coaching style.” Several volunteer coaches from the gun club are also on hand, as well as parents who help to keep things organized and safe. One of those parents is Tara Schnur, whose son, Ethan, is a senior on the team this year. Ethan, who has also been involved in football, baseball, and basketball, had zero shooting experience before deciding to join the team the day before its first meeting.
“So the next morning he and his dad went to leave for the first meeting and I said, ‘Don’t you think he should at least shoot a gun before he goes?’ So they went on the back patio, and his dad told him to shoot a tree,” Schnur says. “He shot two rounds and said, ‘OK, I’m good, let’s go.’” After starting out shooting single digits, Ethan earned the third-highest overall average in the state that spring with a 23.30, using his grandfather’s Browning shotgun that was half-a-century old. The next season, using a new gun, his overall average of 24.80 put him at No. 1 in Indiana. He credits coaching and
learning from other trap shooters for his growth and the success of the team. Trap shooting, he says, provides a different experience than traditional school sports. “In trap shooting, you compete as an individual as well as a team,” he says. “Out there, it’s just you and your gun, but in the end it all comes together to help your team, too.”
Two other area schools joined the League after Mater Dei, and Norris has taken on coaching duties with them as well. He’s making a push for coaching training this year, for himself and the other volunteers involved. “I worked with two youngsters who were working with a national coach. I sat there and watched them and thought I do not know enough about coaching,” Norris says. “I’m looking forward to some good results from this.” The team has set a high bar, but regardless of the results, the community has embraced the team. Schnur says parent support is strong, and the impact on students in undeniable. “They get to do something that they love and it’s a lifetime sport,” she says. “It’s something they can do forever, but they’re also being taught discipline with guns and safety. It’s a great thing.”