Of all the teams in the League, Orono holds a special place in the history of high school clay target shooting. It was there that Jim Sable first began his mentoring program in 2001, and it was that mentoring program that blossomed into first the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League, and then later into the USA High School Clay Target League.
Orono holds the honored position of being the “first” school in the League, and was one of the three school-approved teams that took part in the first season of competition in 2008.
By the time current Head Coach Mike Personius took the reins in 2010, the League had grown to 340 students participating on 13 teams throughout Minnesota.
Now, seven years later, the League has rocketed to nearly 20,000 student athletes participating on over 600 teams nationwide.
“It’s really cool,” said Personius, when asked about the growth of the sport. “It’s taken off by leaps and bounds. No one could have predicted it would become so popular. But it’s a great sport. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete, so I think that’s why it’s so attractive to people.”
Personius, who has also been shooting trap himself for over 20 years, takes a basic approach to coaching the 40 young men and women who participate in Orono trap.
“I focus on teaching three things,” Personius said, including:
1. Where to look
2. Where to hold the gun
3. How to stand Becoming a successful athlete takes more than that, of course, but those pieces lay the foundation.
“It’s a skill that has to be learned and practiced, but if you focus on those three things, you can do really well,” Personius said.
Having boys and girls on the same team is also unique in the world of high school sports, which he said makes for a fun dynamic.
“I think at first, some girls were hesitant to join, but once they joined, they really enjoyed it,” he said, adding that the girls he’s coached listen well and follow the coaches’ instructions to a T. The result? Some girls from the Orono trap team have received scholarships to compete in college.
Sam Personius, Mike’s son, was a member of the 2010 team. He’s now back at Orono as an assistant coach. Another former Orono team member is now the head coach at Blake High School.
“It’s great to see those who have participated come back and stay involved,” Personius said.
What has also contributed to the appeal of the program and trap in general, he said, is that it is a true team sport. Everyone makes an impact, and there are no politics as far as who starts, who plays and who doesn’t.
Personius isn’t one for keeping track of records, or wins and losses, but says the Spartans are consistently a “top-10 team.” More important, it’s a great time to be involved. The team is part of a rapidly growing sport that students of all backgrounds, skills, and experiences can join and compete in for years to come.
“It’s nice to see kids learn the sport and improve and grow as a team,” Personius said. “It’s also a sport you can participate in the rest of your life. So seeing so many people get into this sport, which can be a lifelong sport, is really cool.”