Shooting through stereotypes

Clay target team receives national recognition while combating misconceptions about their sport


Junior Lexie Smoot has won many awards at national and state clay target tournaments. The team’s awards are displayed in Mr. Cooke’s room.

The field was completely silent as junior Lexie Smoot focused on the small, orange target flying up in the air. Her usual, carefree demeanor was nowhere to be seen as she forgot about the world around her. Finally, when the angle was just right, she pulled the trigger and the shell from her shotgun hit the target, causing it to shatter to the ground.

Smoot is the newly elected president of the Clay Target Team. Her brother was on the team when it first started and her dad has been a coach ever since then, which is why she was naturally inclined to join in eighth grade. Her first time shooting with the team was back in middle school, but she had been exposed to firearms a few years before that.

“I felt nervous because I was holding a gun, but the team helped me out,” Smoot said. “I wasn’t just shooting by myself. The squad was supporting me in every single shot I took.”

There are three main categories of clay target shooting that the team focuses on — skeet, trap and sporting clay. The team goes to tournaments throughout the year to practice and improve their skills for the national competition in the summer.

When Smoot was a freshman, the team competed in San Antonio. All of the hotels around the Riverwalk were packed with shooters from across the nation, getting ready for the tournament. Colorful tents and lawn chairs, filled with people playing games and chatting, were scattered across the field where they would compete. Smoot’s squad quickly became known for wearing American flag shorts as well as their mascot Zoey, Smoot’s golden retriever.

After a long day of shooting, the team sat through what felt like a never-ending awards ceremony. The wait paid off when Smoot ranked 1st in the nation for skeet and sporting clay, 3rd for trap and 1st overall.

“I was at a national competition and it was my first year being competitive with the sport so to get all the medals and have them all around my neck felt pretty cool,” Smoot said.

The clay target team has won many awards over the years. They have been state champions back to back and often bring home awards from nationals and other tournaments. All of their trophies are in their sponsor, Mr. Cooke’s, room. They are not allowed to display them anywhere else in the school since they have guns involved with their sport.

Clay target shooting has become increasingly controversial over the past few years due to the number of school and mass shootings that have occured. Smoot is confident that this sport does not correlate to the recent tragedies.

“[Many people] are just scared of the idea of a gun,” Smoot said. “A gun does have the power to do some really awful things, but if you place it in the hands of the right person, a person that knows how to use it, it’s a great sport.”

Some people are apprehensive about kids having access to firearms. Longtime coach Devin Barge explains the importance of teaching students how to safely operate a firearm.

“For different reasons, a number of youth have a curiosity about firearms,” Barge said. “I think [it’s important] to provide an outlet where kids can not only become educated in safety, but exercise it. The more people that know how to safely operate and be around a firearm really makes a difference.”

Every athlete on the team is required to go through six hours of safety training every year. There have been zero incidents of injury since the clay target team began. The coaches often say that this is the safest sport on campus because with physical contact sports, someone is bound to get injured. Smoot said with clay target shooting, if all of the safety guidelines are followed, the worst that can happen is a finger jam.

“While initially if you don’t know about our sport and what we do, it might be perceived as dangerous, if you follow the four basic rules, nothing bad can happen,” Barge said.

The team not only offers students skills that they can’t learn anywhere else, but has given many students a new family. After practices and tournaments, they always go out to eat and they often roadtrip to their competitions together. All of the time they spend together has Smoot said a lot of kids who never found their niche in school have found their place on the team.

“I think of the Marcus Clay Target Team as this ragtag group of students,” Smoot said. “There are so many different personalities on the team and everyone fits in.”