December 6, 2021

Shooting league takes shape

McGraw school district club focuses on gun safety, sportsmanship

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Members of the McGraw school district shooting league fire at clay pigeons Saturday at the Blodgett Mills Sportmen’s Club in Virgil.

The Blodgett Mills Sportsmen’s Club was filled Saturday morning with 19 young people shooting through the foggy mist at clay pigeons.

The crack of the gunshots reverberated through the air as the youngsters shot 12-gauge or 20-gauge shotguns, which scattered birdshot across their orange targets, sometimes hitting and sometimes not.

The students were participating in a new shooting league started through McGraw Central School District this spring — part of an effort by the district to increase productive conversations around gun ownership — and glean from those a positive perception of firearms.

The club stresses responsible gun ownership, focusing on safety and the different sports guns can be used for, say district officials.

Students shoot at both the Blodgett Mills Sportsmen’s Club and the McGraw Sportsman Club.

Lindsey Watrous, a sophomore who also plays soccer and volleyball, was just looking for another sport to get involved in. She’s always enjoyed target shooting with her grandfather, so when the school opened a trap shooting club, she thought she’d join.

“It’s really fun,” she said, and she’s making new friends. “It’s brought together a different group of people you wouldn’t expect to come together.”

The club includes boys and girls from ages 12 to 18, and from beginner to experienced shooter, said head coach Alex Perry.

Benjamin Stull, a ninth grader who usually shoots 19 out of 25 targets, hopes to shoot his first 25 with the club. Stull has been trap shooting for years with his father, so when the school offered a club he jumped on board.

“I think it was a great opportunity to shoot with your friends and get familiar with the sport and practice,” he said.

The club is in the New York State High School Clay Target League and Saturday competitions are between schools, with scores ranked online.

McGraw Superintendent Melinda McCool, herself an avid sportsman, believes in promoting responsible gun ownership and teaching gun safety.

“A big portion of the course is to teach students responsible gun use and ownership,” McCool said.

Sam Morse, owner of the Blodgett Mills Sportsmen’s Club and an assistant coach for the team, said students bring their own firearms.

The competitions are on Saturdays and parents are responsible for transporting the students and weapons to avoid students bringing the guns to school, Morse said.

Students learn many lessons during the day, she said. “They learn safety, respect for other shooters, sportsmanship, and a lifelong skill.”

And she likes the equity of the club. Unlike basketball or baseball, no-one sits out, she said.

“Everybody shoots 50 targets every week, nobody sits on the bench,” she said. “Everybody shoots 50 targets every week no matter what their skill level is.”

McCool said she supports responsible gun ownership.

“So throughout my teaching career and leadership career in education, I have supported in any way, shape or form, to include gun-safety pieces in our lessons and instruction to our students,” McCool said.

There’s a deeper lesson, too, she added: “This gives a positive peer conversation about the use of guns and what the purpose of them is, how they are used appropriately and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

Staff Reporter Shenandoah Briere contributed to this report.