When Brett Allen started the Conway High School clay target team last year, his primary motivation— other than his son’s interest in the sport— was safety.
“It’s important to me because I’m sick and tired of hearing about accidental shootings, hunting accidents and that sort of thing,” says Allen, head coach of the team in Conway, a South Carolina town of about 24,000 located 12 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach. “If everybody that hunts would handle their firearms the way we teach kids to handle them, those accidents would not happen. And that’s my driving force.”
What Allen didn’t anticipate was the wave of interest he received not only from Conway students, but the surrounding area. With just a few weeks to work with before the start of the 2018 season, he recruited seven students for his team while also getting two other schools involved. This year, the Conway team ballooned to 16 students and a total of 12 teams competed in the region.
“I started locally because I had some contacts there,” Allen says. “As far as the other programs, I started calling schools that had existing shooting programs. I actually had about five or six more approved schools this year, but they just didn’t compete.”
Allen expects those schools to take part next year, and for the number of students involved to grow. Though safety has remained the top priority at Conway, Allen says the team’s improvement has been unbelievable.
The team won its conference in 2018 and 2019. It took the top spot in the state tournament last year and third this year.
“For some of them, going from being unable to shoot at all and seeing their growth as far as gaining confidence and their happiness and the smiles on their faces, that’s just a bonus,” Allen says.
His son, Braylen, a sophomore, helped spark the team’s start when he took to clay target shooting at a friend’s house a couple of years ago. Braylen has improved from shooting in the mid-teens to the mid-20s in that time. Like most of his teammates, clay target shooting is Braylen’s primary school activity.
“Probably 14 or 15 of them would not be doing a sport if not for this,” Allen says. Many of Allen’s athletes have firearm experience, but not necessarily in clay target shooting. His background includes competitive shooting in the early 2000s. He says his key coaching points are simple. Aside from safety, he focuses on stance, hold, eyes, and concentration.
“Don’t be looking around for mom and dad, don’t be talking to the guy beside you, just concentrate,” Allen says of that last bit of coaching. “Every single one of my kids has broken every single target from every presentation available. There’s nothing that they can’t hit, it’s just about concentration.”
But for all the safety lessons and concen- tration on the range, there’s no shortage of fun on the Conway team. It’s a close-knit group that enjoys it’s time together on the Horry County Chapter wildlife Action Center range, about a half hour from the high school. All of the students are supportive of each other and everyone has an impact—that’s what Allen enjoys most about the group.
“Everybody gets to shoot and everybody has the opportunity for their score to count,” he says. “Each week you compete as an individual and as a team.”