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YOUNG SHOOTERS TARGETING THE OLYMPICS.

Good kids with good guns vie for a spot on the Junior Olympic Development Team.

Three months after the country's worst tragedy involving guns and children in Littleton, Colorado, 80 kids--each with a gun or two--arrived in Colorado Springs with just one purpose on their minds: to vie for a spot on the Junior Olympic Development Team. The local police weren't summoned; the media were not alerted; and no threats, injuries, or deaths resulted.

They are among the many thousands of good kids with good guns in America. They came to Colorado Springs with a burning desire to represent our country on the U.S. Shooting Team at a future Olympics. Their guns are competition trap and skeet guns--some worth $50,000--and certainly not weapons, but shooting-sports equipment. Their home addresses are from all across this land. They are your neighbors and the wholesome, wonderful kids rarely featured in newspapers, magazines, or on the evening news.

The following week, members of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Team from Fort Benning, Georgia, arrived at Colorado Springs. Under the direction of coach Burl Branham, team members practiced daily with the hopes of making the Olympic team and traveling to Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Games.

Also vying for a spot on the U.S. team are Colorado Springs resident athletes who spend hours daily practicing their sport year-round under the direction of U.S. National Shotgun coach Lloyd Woodhouse. The young sportsmen and women hope that the dedicated, grueling practice will sufficiently prepare them for a match where fierce competition and high scores determine who represents our country in Sydney.

"Every athlete is not a potential Olympian," says Burl Branham, U.S. Army Marksmanship Training Unit coach for 27 years and former volunteer shotgun coach for the United States National Training and Development Team. "But you look at the athletes as they come along, and once every so often you will find an athlete who has the ability and who has the potential to win a medal in the Olympics. This is the one you are looking for. When you find one, you prepare him, put him in competition, and let him run."

One "him" turned out to be a "her" in the 1996 Olympics, as 17-year-old Kim Rhode of California grabbed the gold in the Women's Double Trap. Rhode began shooting clay targets at the age of five and came to Colorado Springs as a 12-year-old. Her road to an Olympic medal took five years of intensive training and seven years' experience before that with her family in the shooting sports.

Atlanta silver medalist Josh Lakatos and bronze medalist Lance Bade were both five-year resident athletes at Colorado Springs before the '96 Olympics. Lakatos first started shooting at age 10 with his father and took lessons from '84 bronze medalist Dan Carlisle.

Bade, from Vancouver, Washington, didn't begin the sport until 1987, when he was 16. He was the only U.S. member to be selected for both trap and double trap. To compete successfully in two events is considered nearly impossible. The intense concentration required for the first event leaves the competitor mentally and physically drained before taking the line for the second.

All three medalists are likely to show up again at the 2000 Games. The team will consist of six men and three women who are still competing for a coveted Olympic spot that will be announced later this year.

How did these young men and women become interested in the shooting sports? Many of these Olympic hopefuls are offspring of fathers and grandfathers who taught the sport to the next generation. Hunting and competitive shooting are traditions in many American families and have been passed down for decades when a youngster shows an interest and is considered responsible enough to learn the sport. Others become interested through organizations they join that include the sport. National clubs such as 4-H, Future Farmers of America, Boy Scouts, DeMolay, Junior ROTC, the American Legion's Junior Shooting Sports Program, NRA programs, and others teach shooting.

"I can honestly say that looking back, nothing gave me the discipline and the comradeship as when I was shooting in those organizations," says Matt Szramoski, manager of NRA Youth programs, Eagle Scout, and former member of JROTC and DeMolay. "I really had to listen and do what I was told because I wanted to be safe but at the same time have fun. I want the same opportunities for my two-year-old son when he's old enough to be introduced to shooting sports."

No matter how the interest in shooting sports begins, the first and most important lesson is always the same -- safety. The lesson is stressed by fathers to their children; by the American Legion to its 450 youth shooting teams; by Boy Scout leaders to the 3.1 million boys who attend summer camps; by the 4-H certified instructors to the 150,000 youngsters enrolled in 4-H shooting-sports programs; by the Jaycees to the 600,000 youth who annually attend a shooting-education program; by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to the thousands who participate annually at its National Hunting and Fishing Day; by the 50,000 NRA-certified volunteer instructors to more than one million Americans annually who enroll in NRA programs.

Although it rarely makes headlines, shooting is the third largest Olympic sport in terms of medals, participants, and countries, and the only sport to be held at both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

Olympic shooting includes rifle, pistol, trap, and skeet in 17 separate events in which both men and women of varying ages may compete. Members of the 1996 American shooting team ranged in age from 16 to 52.

The Atlanta Olympics was one of the most memorable in history for the American team that captured a gold, silver, and bronze medal in the highly competitive trapshooting events. The victory was a highlight of coach Lloyd Woodhouse's career. Since 1985, he has coached three Olympic teams, three Pan American teams, and ten teams that have won numerous medals in World Cup and World Championship competitions. Woodhouse's love of shooting is evident in his coaching style. Even though he didn't shoot his first match until he was 30 years old, the Norfolk, Virginia, native went on to win several state titles and to compete in Mexico at the Benito Juarez Championships. In 1976, he accepted the head-coaching position with the U.S. Air Force skeet team. He retired as a chief master sergeant in 1985 to coach the U.S. National Team and National Development Team at USA Shooting.

Current Junior Nationals Skeet Champ Allen Treadwell of Seligman, Missouri, spends much time traveling in pursuit of his sport. He spent the last week of August practicing at Colorado Springs, participated in the Irlene Mandrell/Daryle Lamonica Celebrity Shoot in Las Vegas the following weekend, and then competed in Nashville at Louise Mandrell's Celebrity Shoot. Allen is a former NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge participant.

"I like YHEC because it teaches safe gun handling, responsibility, and the importance of safety while hunting," he says. "For me, YHEC is really a family event and includes hunter ethics I have been taught all my life. It can give kids an alternative to trouble."

That same sentiment is shared by current Olympic hopeful Adam Curtis, 15, of Las Vegas. Two years ago, a family friend invited Adam to participate in a Wednesday evening trapshooting league at a local gun club. The invitation hooked Adam on shooting. His love of the sport is evident in the many trophies that line the family's home.

"Shooting keeps me out of trouble. I'm doing things with my family and making new friends of all ages who share this sport," Adam says. "I practice a lot, and I've encouraged some of my friends from school to join the Wednesday evening league."

History of USA Shooting

Before 1979, a year-round U.S. Shooting Team did not exist. Athletes trained independently and met once a year to try out for major events such as the Olympics and World Championships. Once the match was over, the team disbanded until the following year.

Spurred on by the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, the national governing body for shooting at the time mandated the establishment of national teams and national development teams, a national coaching staff, year-round training programs, and a main training site for Olympic shooting sports.

USA Shooting, a nonprofit corporation, was chartered by the United States Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the sport of shooting in April 1995. It is USA Shooting's mission to prepare American athletes to win Olympic medals, promote the shooting sports throughout the United States, and govern the conduct of international shooting in the country. The organization implements and manages development programs and sanctions events at the local, state, regional, and national levels.

USA Shooting is headquartered at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs. The Shooting Center is the largest indoor shooting facility in the Western Hemisphere and the third largest in the world. Three separate ranges provide 29 firing points from 50 meters, 72 firing points from 10 meters, and three 10-meter running target bays for training and competitions. It also houses the administrative offices, a gunsmith room, and locker rooms for resident and visiting athletes.

USA Shooting Team members have won a total of 30 gold medals, 23 silver medals, and 16 bronze medals at the Olympic Games. At the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, the U.S. Shooting Team walked away with one gold, one silver, and one bronze medal. Of the top 10 American Olympic medalists of all time, three are shooters, and the sport is ranked third in total U.S. medals won--behind track and field and swimming.

Olympic-Style Shooting

International shooting is practiced throughout the world and is the only style of shooting used in the Olympic Games. It evolved from the aristocratic European tradition of shooting and is governed by the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF), headquartered in Munich, Germany, with very stringent rules to ensure uniformity worldwide.

The U.S. Olympic Committee recognizes USA Shooting as the national governing body for Olympic shooting sports in this country. USA Shooting is responsible for selecting and training the National Team and the National Development Team each year. The U.S. Shooting Team represents the United States in world-level competitions.

The Shooting Education and Gun Safety Program of the Jaycees is a prime example of how to combat teen violence in your community. A proper course in shooting education teaches responsibility, a concept that seems to be lost with some children along with personal self-worth. The program also stresses not only the mechanics of proper gun handling but teaches about the morality and ethics of taking up a firearm. If it reaches just one child and averts a tragedy, isn't it worth it?

--U.S. JAYCEES

Celebrities Raise Funds for Charity Through Shooting Sports

Country-singing stars Barbara, Louise, and Irlene Mandrell represent a family where hunting and shooting sports were traditions. The girls were taught to respect guns at a very early age by their father, and all three now enjoy shotgun shooting as a competitive sport.

Irlene's desire to destigmatize the sport she loves has led to her promotion of celebrity shoots. Her husband's involvement with the National Wild Turkey Federation made her aware of the imminent threat to hunters and hunting promoted by gun-control advocates. Louise Mandrell also sponsors a celebrity shoot. Last September, her sixth shooting event attracted 50 celebrities and benefited the Boy Scouts of America.

"Actually this event started because on my honeymoon, I went to a Charlton Heston Celebrity Shoot in Los Angeles, and my husband, John Haywood, and I decided we would do this in Nashville to help the Boy Scouts," says Louise. "I do a lot of things for Boy Scouts on a national level, but this helps not only public awareness for Boy Scouts and shooting sports, but it also raises money for Middle Tennessee Boy Scouts."

Barbara, who won a trophy at Louise's shoot last year, says, "I thank Louise very much for introducing me to the marvelous activity of the shooting sports for the whole family. I'm not a hunter; I'm very much a clay-target shooter. You meet the most wonderful people in the shooting sports, a very diversified group of people from all walks of life."

The Road to Olympic Gold

BY LAUNI MEILI

My father got me started shooting at a local rifle club. It was gallery-type shooting where matches were set up, and we competed side by side with other shooters. The competition inspired me, and I worked hard to improve my shooting skills in order to win some of the matches.

From the local shooting programs, I advanced to matches in other communities and, eventually, to state competitions. As your shooting skills improve and you begin to do well in state competitions, you earn the opportunity to shoot in stiffer competition. I won local, area, and state competitions and moved up to preliminary shoots for the Olympics.

After high school, I attended college and participated on the shooting team. Collegiate shooting puts you in competitions against better shooters in your own age group. The NCAA holds national championships, which are tough matches and good experience as a stepping stone to the U.S. Shooting Team.

I was able to make the United States Shooting Team in college, and I began to train and shoot in matches at the U.S. Olympic Shooting Center in Colorado Springs. Before long, I was traveling and competing all over the world. I qualified for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and gained valuable experience competing against the best in the world. In 1992, all my practice and experience paid off with the gold medal in three-position rifle. I consider myself very lucky to have won a gold medal for my country in a sport that has brought me so much enjoyment.

I also receive great enjoyment when I see the rapid improvement youngsters can make in shooting. Some of the most fun I have is watching new shooters improving their shooting skills almost immediately at an air-gun range. It's also good to know that shooting is a safe sport that they can enjoy the rest of their lives.

As a youngster, I became interested in shooting for the same reasons children are attracted to any sport--it's fun, challenging, and competitive. Exceptional size or strength is not necessary to enjoy or even excel at the shooting sports. Girls and boys can compete equally.

Shooting is an easy sport to get started in and one that builds self-esteem and confidence as beginners can quickly see their progress. Shooting builds a number of skills, such as concentration and hand-eye coordination. Visualization and relaxation techniques are also incorporated to enhance skills. Through the safety training that is an essential part of any shooting program, youngsters learn responsibility, discipline, and respect for others.

Recreational shooting and competitive events can be enjoyed indoors or out all year long as an individual or team activity. A youngster's interest in shooting can become a lifetime sport that provides recreation and fellowship at any age. And, from a parent's point of view, one of the most attractive aspects of the shooting sports is that children, parents, and grandparents can participate together for many, many years.
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Author:Stevens, Sandra
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:2570
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