The Crookston School Board on Monday green-lighted the addition of a co-ed Crookston Pirate trap-shooting team, which will subsequently be fast-tracked so a team can be formed and begin practicing and competing this spring.
The new team will have "club" status and won't be considered an official "extra-curricular" sport, Activities Director Don Donarski explained. It would be similar to the Crookston Figure Skating Club, he added, in that the participants would be subject to Minnesota State High School League rules, would be eligible to earn letters in the sport and would have their team picture in the yearbook.
The Crookston Gun Club is leading the effort, and several club members attended Monday's board meeting to make their case, answer questions and address board members' concerns.
Gun Club Vice President Darren Gjerswold said the chool district will have "no financial responsibility whatsoever" to field the team. With guns being a "huge concern," he also said that at no time will guns be on school property; all trap-shooting team activities will take place at the Gun Club, located around a mile north of Crookston off Highway 75.
"They'll go through a normal school day, go home, pick up their guns and go to the Gun Club," Gjerswold said, adding that if it's more convenient for a student to store a gun at the Gun Club, storage space will be available. "All federal, state, local and school rules will be followed to the letter," he said.
Board member Dave Davidson, who made a point to say that he "enthusiastically" supports the addition of the team, agreed with CHS Principal Lon Jorgenson in stressing how critically important it is for a team member to not store a gun on school property, such as a vehicle trunk.
It'll cost each team member $200 to $250 to cover the costs of targets and ammunition. They'll be required to wear eye and ear protection, which will be provided. The Gun Club and the state clay shooting association carry the necessary insurance policies, Gjerswold said, adding that participants will need to have earned their youth firearms safety certificate in order to be on the team.
The Pirate trap-shooting team will not travel, either, and no teams will travel to Crookston. All teams shoot at their local venues, the results are forwarded to the state trap-shooting association and the MSHSL, and teams and individuals are subsequently ranked and/or seeded as the season progresses in advance of the state tournament in Alexandria in June. Similar to other sports, teams will be broken into "A" classes and "AA" classes.
"Novice kids are every bit as important as kids who might shoot professionally one day or compete in the Olympics," Gjerswold said. "We are really excited about this."
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School districts in Thief River Falls, Newfolden, Plummer and Warroad have trap-shooting teams now. Fergus Falls is starting a new team this spring, and Breckenridge and Perham are looking into it. The first three teams in Minnesota formed in 2001, Gjerswold said, with 30 kids total. That has since grown to more than 50 school teams throughout the state.
The board was asked to fast-track its approval because the spring league starts at the end of March. Gjerswold said 10 to 15 students already shoot in summer leagues, and most have expressed an interest in being on the Pirate team. Three Gun Club members have said they will serve as coaches.
The sport is growing so much in schools that in June of 2014 it will be recognized as an official MSHSL sport, Donarski said.
Infringe on other spring sports?
Asked by board chair Frank Fee if he recommended board approval of the addition of trap-shooting, Donarski said that, as an avid hunter, he recommended approval the team. But he was quick to stress that it's a widely held opinion locally that CHS, if anything, offers too many activities that are spreading too many team rosters too thin.
"The only way I can recommend this is if it has no impact or conflict whatsoever with our current teams, games and practices...things we currently offer," Donarski said. "But because it's a club sport, they said they can be very flexible on when they have practices."
He was joined by board members in saying the team's first year will be evaluated next spring. "Every year the board has the option of saying yes or no," Donarski said.
"If the spring coaches end up having an issue with it, we'll hear about it," Fee added.
Davidson is a big fan of the new team. "I don't think it will detract from other sports and activities," he said. "But what I think it will do is give some kids who are interested in gun sports but maybe not some of the other programs we offer, an outlet to do something that interests them."
Gjerswold said students in neighboring towns that don't have gun clubs could potentially be on the Pirate team.
Fee praised the club’s thorough presentation. “That was impressive,” he said.