MARSHALL - Forget about "Call of Duty" on XBox, this is the real deal and its benefits are quite a bit more far-reaching than what a video game offers.
Nick Simonson thought so highly of the Minnesota Clay Target League that he wanted to bring the program to Marshall High School. So that's exactly what he did back in November, and now, two months later, the league has become a reality after the Marshall School Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to join the Minnesota High School Clay Target League this spring.
"This gives kids a chance to be out there with their friends, support each other - that's what the CTL embodies, and I was really taken with that," said Simonson, president of the Lyon County Chapter of Pheasants Forever. "This is actual shooting in a real 3-D environment, and anything that gets kids outdoors to experience this reality instead of a virtual reality is a big win."
Registration for the MHS CTL team is open on a first-come, first-served basis to all Marshall Public School students in grades 7-12 who have a valid firearms safety certificate.
The co-ed CTL began in 2001 with 30 students from three schools in 2001 and has grown to include more than 160 schools and 3,200 participants. Participants shoot at their local gun club each week, and their scores are put up against hundreds of other students on similarly-sized teams. All scores are submitted online and compared against other scores from teams of similar sizes making up a school's conference, and league points are awarded across different categories.
The season is eight weeks long and starts with two weeks of practice shooting, leading up to the first competition in April. The State Open tournament on June 6-8 is open to all team members, regardless of how they performed during the season.
Following that is the CTL State Invitational Tournament on June 14 that will include the state's top shooters.
"The two tournaments reflect the whole value of this program," said Simonson, who noted CTL is the fastest-growing sport in Minnesota. "Everyone is included, whether they're a boy or girl, whether they're 13 years old or 18 years old, and whether they're the best on the team or not. Everybody shoots and has fun. It's competition, but it's more about getting people involved and being the best they can be."
Simonson said beyond giving kids who don't take part in more traditional extracurricular activities, the CTL will shed a positive light on kids and firearms, as opposed to the negatives that are portrayed in the media in the aftermath of youth-involved shootings.
"I think it's important to have youth understand the responsibilities of a firearm but also to see (firearms) as a tool, not a weapon," he said. "This will help further the mission of respectful firearm ownership. These are the kinds of things that can build a positive view of kids and firearms. It's important to get youth involved in the outdoors, whether it's fishing, hunting or shooting sports."
Fundraising by local sportsman's groups including the Redwood River Sportsman's Club, Lyon County Pheasants Forever and the Buffalo Ridge Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, will help cover the majority of participants' league costs. Students need to provide their own firearms and pay only for the activity fee through the high school. The cost of ammunition and targets for the league will be paid for through grants and other local financial support. Weekly league shoots will be at the Redwood River Sportsman's Club, which is located 8 miles southeast of Marshall.
"This is a big win and a huge opportunity for the youth in our area," said Kevin Kayser, Redwood River Sportsman's Club president. "They get the excitement of competing against over 160 teams across the state, without having to travel to do it."
While some might be concerned about safety at the shoots, it should be noted that since its beginning, there have been no injuries in CTL practices and competitions and no violations involving guns on or near school property.
Sign up and informational meetings will be at 5:30 p.m. the MHS media center on Jan. 30 and Feb. 6. Students wishing to register on either of those nights must bring a copy of their Firearms Safety Certificate. Enrollment is currently guaranteed for the first 30 students.
Parents can learn more about the CTL team by calling Simonson at (507) 829-9553 or emailing him at email@example.com. For immediate registration, parents can email a copy of the participant's Firearms Safety Certificate. Registration will be open until Monday, March 9.