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Young guns: Cherokee shooters take two first places at state contest

Becky Whitlock • Jul 3, 2010 at 7:15 AM

Young athletes from throughout our region often win college scholarships based on football, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball or other athletic skills.

But if the results of a state championship held in Nashville the first weekend in June are any indication, several young athletes from the region have a chance for scholarships in trap, skeet and sporting clays.

The team of Casey Legg, John-Logan Cassell and Michael Jennings won first in junior varsity skeet at the Scholastic Clay Target Program’s state championship, and the team of Peyton Horton, Logan Dunlap and Hunter Hammonds took third in the same competition. The junior varsity team of Legg, Cassell and Jennings took first in the sporting clays tournament.

In addition, Cal Sutherland took high gun alternate in intermediate entry skeet. Jesse Brandon took high gun alternate in junior varsity trap, and Horton was runner-up in that competition.

In the Region 4 competition, which was held in May, the team of Legg, Hammonds and Dunlap took first in junior varsity skeet, with Horton, Jennings and Cassell taking third. Sutherland took high gun in intermediate entry level skeet, and Cassell took high gun in junior varsity skeet. The junior varsity team took first in the Sports Unlimited trap tournament.

The young men are members of the Scholastic Clay Target Program, which the Cherokee Rod and Gun Club recently decided to sponsor.

Starting the program at Cherokee Rod and Gun Club was the idea of Chris Long.

“We have 22 kids who come up to the club and shoot .22s,” Long said. “We wanted to get them shooting shotguns instead of .22s.”

Long discovered the Scholastic Clay Target Program, which offers college scholarships to high school seniors in the program, on the Internet. His son, Aaron, was preparing to finish high school and go to college, and so Chris Long decided to pursue the program for Aaron as well as other youngsters. Students who receive scholarships will shoot on those colleges’ trap, skeet and sporting clays teams.

The Scholastic Clay Target Program offers participation in the American disciplines of trap, skeet and sporting clays, and the international disciplines of Olympic bunker trap and ISU skeet.

Tennessee schools with shooting teams include Bethel University and the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Chris Long, along with Quintin Dunlap and Tim Williams, traveled to Knoxville for a National Rifle Association shotgun coaching class. Chris Long now serves as head coach, with Quintin Dunlap and Williams as assistant head coaches of the team.

Ten young men made up this first team. The junior varsity team (fourth and fifth grades) consists of Horton, Brandon, Cassell, Logan, Dunlap, Hammonds, Jennings and Legg. The intermediate team (sixth through eighth grades) consists of Sutherland and Brett Strum. The two collegiate members were Aaron Long and Reece Miller. A senior division for ninth through 12th grades also is available.

The success of the Cherokee Rod and Gun Club team at the state competition is notable not only because the team is brand new, Chris Long said, but because it only had a budget of $1,500 and went up against teams, some from school systems in Middle and West Tennessee, that had $50,000 budgets.

“The kids participate in the Scott County Outdoor Team,” Chris Long said, “They’re really remarkable shooters for their age. ... They would shoot every night of the week if they could afford the shells.”

But talent in shooting is not the only requirement. The Scholastic Clay Target Program holds its student athletes to the same standards that other sports groups hold their student athletes to, Chris Long said. Each member of the team has to maintain a C average. All the members of the JV team had at least a 3.8 grade point average.

Furthermore, even though the current team consists of boys and young men, Long said the Scholastic Clay Target Program is a Title IX program, so girls and young women also may participate.

Eventually, Long would like to see the Scholastic Clay Target Program become a part of the athletic programs of area schools, the way it is in several Tennessee counties including Jefferson, Haywood, Monroe and Blount. The Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program began in 2001.

But for the short term, Long would like to raise $5,000 to take nine members of his team to the national competition in Sparta, Ill., the week of July 19. That competition will draw 4,000 students.

“We’re searching for sponsorship dollars,” he said.

Cherokee Rod and Gun Club plans to continue the program, beginning with a fall instructional league. The club will publicize that program later this year.

For more information call the Cherokee Rod and Gun Club at 348-8004.

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