Trapshooting satisfies all three requirements the school board looks to when deciding whether to add a school-sponsored activity to its offerings.
First, trapshooting is a Minnesota State High School League activity; second, they have enough evidence to believe it will be a sustainable activity; and third, it is a conference activity, with only two of the 10 Mississippi 8 schools not offering trapshooting.
Bearing these considerations in mind, Superintendent Jim Johnson asked board members on Monday evening to vote on allowing trapshooting to become a school-sponsored sport at the high school level beginning in the spring of 2014.
Johnson said students would have to provide their own guns to be part of the team, would need to have passed a firearms safety course and would be forbidden to have their guns on school property, in keeping with current policies.
He also said participating students and their parents would be well-informed about the rules involved and the consequences of breaking them, and they would need to sign forms annually to acknowledge that they know about and will abide by these rules.
Johnson said that parents and other community members have stepped up and volunteered to be advisers for the new sport, and these volunteers would need to undergo training as well. There will be one adviser for every 10 participants.
A recent lunch hour sign-up showed that as many as 90 students in grades 9-12 are interested in participating in trapshooting as a school sport.
Johnson said a few of these students are spring athletes who will be able to participate both in trapshooting and their regular spring sport, but most interested students are not currently involved in school-sponsored athletics. Board members expressed excitement at the prospect of reaching and engaging a subset of the student population that isn’t currently involved in the school outside of the classroom.
Trapshooters, like any other sport, will be able to receive a letter and will appear in the yearbook, he said.
“It’s the fastest growing sport, even ahead of lacrosse, in Minnesota right now, and the majority of the schools are adding it because of that,” said Activities Director Gary Revenig. “They are getting students excited and involved that aren’t typically in sports right now.”
Both the Monticello Sportsman Club and the Monticello Rod and Gun Club have expressed an interest in hosting the trapshooting team for their competitions. Students would be able to shoot locally, without the need for travel, until the state tournament level.
Boardmember Jim Lindberg was the first to voice his reservations about combining guns and school-sponsored activities, and he ended up being the board’s sole dissenting vote on this measure.
Lindberg said he didn’t like to see guns associated with the school in any way, and said he disagreed with the high school league for approving it as a school sport to begin with.
“I just personally don’t believe it should be a school sport,” Lindberg said.
Boardmember Jeff Hegle countered that if a student wanted to bring a gun into the school they would find a way to do it, no matter if the school offers trapshooting or not. Other board members acknowledged this fact, bringing up past school shootings around the nation that had no connection to trapshooting leagues.
But he and fellow board member Liz Leitch-Sell thought trapshooters’ conduct should be held to a higher standard due to the nature of the sport. Scott Hill disagreed, saying all students and student athletes need to be held to the same high standards and that trapshooters shouldn’t be singled out.
“A bad tweet is a bad tweet, whether it’s a football player, a trapshooter or a basketball player,” Hill said. “Our school rules are the same for every student that walks through the doors, and I’m hearing this group of students being singled out tonight when that isn’t done for others.”
Hill said he could see a situation where a student in a hurry could mistakenly bring a gun onto school grounds in their vehicle, and that is where he said students and parents need to be well-informed of the consequences that trapshooters, or any other student, would face even in the case of an accident.
Board members Hill, Leitch-Sell and Jill Bartlett said they appreciated Lindberg’s comments and could agree with much of what he said, but they also voiced their support for adding trapshooting while calling on the school to take all necessary precautions to make sure all school safety rules are followed.
“I want kids to participate and develop their passions in a way that is safe,” Leitch-Sell said. “It does make me uneasy, but I will support this for the students.”
“I can’t say I support guns, but I absolutely support providing an opportunity for kids as long as it’s done safely,” Bartlett added.
For his part, Johnson said the school district’s purpose is to teach, and he feels this new opportunity represents an opportunity to reach out to kids and to provide a teachable moment.
“We know that the more connected kids are, the better chance they have of doing well academically and the better chance that they will find success once they leave our schools,” he said. “The connection with school brings them into our building, and there are a lot of great kids who are interested in being involved in this.”
Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.