Teamwork, time management, work ethic, leadership, self-confidence, discipline, and coping skills are just a few of the positive characteristics youth gain from competitive sports.

Most youth athletes compete in school-sponsored sports, such as football, volleyball, wrestling, and track and field. They are the Big Reds, the Hawkeyes, the Bulldogs, the Panthers and the Tigers

For the past eight years, youth from across Harrison County have competed with one another as part of a larger team – the Loess Hills Youth Shooting Sports team.

What began in 2012 with a dozen young Harrison County competitors has grown to include nearly 80 youth athletes from across the county. More than 3,000 shooters competed at the state competition last year.

Chairman Jennifer Thomas recently sought a letter of affiliation with West Harrison Community School District at the July 8 school board meeting.

“We have letters of affiliation with the other schools in Harrison County. It just says that you recognize LHYSS,” Thomas said. “We can use the West Harrison name if we have five West Harrison shooters that perform and place at a tournament. They can be listed as a West Harrison team in the internet conference.

“We are not looking for financial backing, insurance, coaches, or transportation,” she added. “There is no liability for the district.”

The athletic club is sponsored by the Scholastic Clay Target Program and offers competitive opportunities for students age 12 through their senior year in high school.

Currently, there are nine West Harrison students who participate alongside students throughout the county.

As a parent, Thomas can’t say enough about the sport, stating that this sport offers a competitive option for youth who are not likely to compete in other sports.

“I have had parents tell me that their child wasn’t physically competitive, but this gives them a sport that they can enjoy and compete in. It’s not all about physique,” she said.

Thomas added that her kids also like that they get plenty of time to practice and to grow.

“They don’t sit on the bench and watch others participate. If they go to practice, they get to compete in the meets,” she said.

As competitors improve, they earn spots on new squads where they can continue to advance.

“The competitors get to be part of a team, but they are driven to improve on a personal level,” she added.

The co-ed club is countywide and isn’t divided by which school athletes attend.

“It is one of the fastest growing sports. We like that you can do it many years after high school. It is not hard on your joints or body,” she said. “We have kids that are getting college scholarships and going on to Iowa Central Community College, Iowa Western Community College, Simpson College, and Des Moines Area Community College.”

Thomas wants more people to see the benefits of shooting sports.

“In this day and age, if you say gun or shooting, there is a negative connotation to it,” she said. “This sport teaches patience and respect. My kids have a definite respect for guns. It is no different than using a hammer to shingle a roof or a bat for baseball. This is the equipment we use for our sport.”

Competitors are required to complete hunter safety, state one safety rule at each practice and meet, follow a code of conduct, and maintain academic eligibility.

There is a lettering process, determined by scores and sportsmanship, among other criteria.

Shooters are expected to bring their own 12- or 20-gauge shotgun, but Thomas added that it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.

“Grace uses a gun that lost its bluing in a fire,” she said about her daughter, who was the first in the family to join the club, doing so in the sixth grade. “We call it ‘Trusty Rusty,’ and she medaled numerous times with it last year.”

In addition to the firearm, competitors must bring their own eye protection and hearing protection. Coaches are required to pass a background check as well as complete National Rifle Association instructor training and range safety training.

“Grace had rarely handled a gun prior to joining, aside from shooting a couple of times at home,” Jennifer said. “It is fun to see her interaction with the coach and the elation on her face when she broke that first clay.”

“Our coaches are former Omaha Police Department, Department of Natural Resources, game wardens, and retired military,” she added.

In addition to the benefits of team sports and respect for firearms, Grace has earned medals in her division. Her sisters Hannah and Joslynn have since joined the club and have also medaled.

“This is definitely something you can do as a family,” Jennifer said.

The West Harrison School Board unanimously approved the letter of affiliation for the Loess Hills Youth Shooting Sports team following the presentation.

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