Jacksonville – With no more misses to spare in the final round, at the end of a long day shooting in hot and humid conditions, Bald Knob High School’s top trap-shooting team ran off 52 straight hits to win its first Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program senior state championship here Saturday.
Bald Knob’s White squad had averaged 120 targets hit out of 125 attempts, with a high of 122 in the third round, during each of five victories in reaching the final against Corning Trap Team Black at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex, and the White hit that number with its blazing finish to win, 120-119. Chase Martin, who has recently graduated, and rising high school senior Hunter Throckmorton were both a perfect 25-for-25 in the final for Bald Knob, which entered the 64-team bracket as one of four top seeds after winning regional competitions last month. Paige Hanna, Evan Martin and Parker Hepner made up the rest of the Bald Knob team.
The Corning squad shot first in the final, and though no official scoring had been announced when Corning was finished, several Bald Knob fans and parents following the shooting knew Corning had missed six of 125 targets. If Bald Knob also missed six, there would be a shoot-off to determine the team champion; seven misses and Bald Knob would miss out on a coveted state title after finishing fourth last year.
“There was a lot of pressure, definitely,” Throckmorton said afterward. “We had to come out with our minds focused and not worry about what they shot, just shoot our best.” After the team’s fifth miss, he said, “we knew we just had to finish it.” And Martin added the team stayed focused. “There was just a lot of positive stuff before we go out and shoot, just to keep your head down and break targets.”
“We’ve started this six, seven years ago and have been in it every year, and it gets better each year. This is the best we’ve done, personally between us two,” Bald Knob’s Throckmorton said of his and Martin’s shooting, adding that the two are both big duck and deer hunters. Martin said, “Duck hunting really helps out here. You don’t know where the traps are going, they just rotate back and forth.”
High school junior Paige Hanna, the only female on the White squad and daughter of one of the coaches, Russell Hanna, said the team didn’t feel much pressure at the start of the day, “but when it got to the top four that’s when I really started feeling it. That was probably the worst, was shooting top four. But I was real excited so I tried to put it aside and not think of it too much so it wouldn’t make me so nervous. We kind of knew what we needed to do (in the final), but not for sure. We just had to get our mindset and stay focused. We’re all about the same when it comes to doing that. If I miss one, I just forget about it move on to the next one.”
Martin had a big day, being one of the last two competitors in the senior Champion of Champions shoot-off before his first miss in several hours. That gave the title to Cave City’s Dylan Kirk, who outlasted 13 other shooters and Martin after that group had hit 50 of 50 for their teams during regional competition. With the large number of qualifiers, the shoot-off started out requiring side-by-side fields, shooting one shot each until a miss beginning at 16 yards, and the competition reached the 27-yard spot (or back line) of the trap range before being decided.
Kirk, a graduated senior who was part of Cave City’s state championship team last year, has been involved in the AYSSP program for six years. His advice for anyone aiming to be a Champion of Champions: “I’ve shot a lot of shells. A lot of practice. That’s all it takes, a lot of practice and a lot of dedication in what you’re doing.” Kirk practices at the Paul H. “Rocky” Willmuth Shooting Sports Complex in Batesville, where he says he sees a lot of the same competitors he faced Saturday. This summer, he’ll compete in Amateur Trap Shooting Association events, before heading to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, where he plans to join the A-State shooting team.
Kirk credits his father, Richard Kirk, for coaching him, and says dove hunting helps his trap shooting.
Geyer Springs Student Ministries won the senior third-place matchup over Berryville.
On Friday, 64 junior teams squared off in the head-to-head bracket after qualifying in four weeks of regionals, and the Nashville Trap Team 1, the South Region titlist, came away with the state championship, defeating Jonesboro Westside Red in the final. Tanner Harris, who had qualified for the junior Champion of Champions shoot-off, led the Nashville team along with Landon Dyer, Braydon Smith, Wren Washburn and Hayden Goodson. Cabot Panthers Doyle’s Dust Donkeys, runner-up to Westside Red in the East Region, took third place in state.
Ethan Simmons took the Junior Champion of Champions title, besting five other shooters who scored perfect 25 for 25 rounds during regional competition.