Behind the Scenes: Holy Family Students Love the Great Outdoors
If you think the closest today’s kids get to the great outdoors is through Fortnite, Apex Legends, or other games exploring a virtual world, think again. Students at Holy Family Catholic High School, as well as schools across the state and nation, are itching to participate in the two fastest-growing, real-world outdoor sports—clay target and fishing.
In just 10 years, nearly 12,000 high school students across Minnesota, both boys and girls, have participated in clay target, otherwise known as trap. And fishing? One of the newest high school club sports seems to be following a similar trajectory. Only 56 kids participated on organized high school fishing teams in 2015. That number grew to 600 in 2017, giving you an idea of its skyrocketing growth.
Both outdoor sports were added to the Holy Family extracurricular list because individual students saw an opportunity to do something they love, while encouraging other students to give it a try.
In 2012, Holy Family graduate Joe Yetzer, then in 11th grade, approached social studies teacher Patrick Maus in the hallway with the idea of starting a trap team. Four years later, Sawyer Schugel took the lead in getting students, teachers, and parents on board to launch the fishing team.
“These activities seem like a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively,” says Holy Family Activities Director Nick Tibesar. “There are plenty of other sports and pressure year-round. These outdoor sports open students up to competing in something they’ve done for a long time or just want to try in a non-intimidating way.”
So far, Holy Family students have given the outdoor activities a huge thumbs-up. This spring trap team will field its largest team with 37 athletes, and 10 are girls, the fastest-growing segment in the sport. Fishing started with a group of 10 anglers last summer and is anticipating more students joining this summer.
“There are a few activities that are co-educational, like cross-country, track and field and fencing,” Tibesar says. “These outdoor sports are the same. Whether it is sighting in on clay targets or pulling a bass from the water, both are activities where girls and boys compete together.”
A Community Effort
The reality is it took the efforts of many to get both fishing and clay target off the ground. While Schugel led with passion, organizing from a student-participation standpoint, it was the help of many parents that got the fishing team in the water.
“So many people helped to get it going” credits team coach Jim O’Donnell, parent of sophomore angler Aidan. “There was good cross-class interaction, from seniors to incoming students still in seventh and eighth grades. And the parents divided and conquered to help out.”
Jon Blood, parent of 9th grade angler Nick, helped get the team going in year one by taking care of the administrative details, navigating registration and outfitting the team with jerseys and sponsors. Becky Lund, parent of 10th grade angler Owen, helped in coordinating team communication and O’Donnell volunteered to fill the coach role.
The biggest obstacle, however, is finding volunteers willing to captain and provide a boat for the fishing teams. Some two-person teams have access to boats and someone over 18 to shuttle the anglers to fishing hot spots. Others, like Schugel, have been resourceful.
“I have a neighbor with a really nice boat,” he says. “You sometimes just have to find people willing to volunteer their time, and even a boat if you need it.”
Likewise, the clay target team wouldn’t exist today without parents, teachers and volunteers. Coach Maus, who remembers shooting trap recreationally as a kid, has led the team since 2012. Yetzer’s dad, Steve, helped form the team and has volunteered as an assistant coach from day one. With the need for one coach for every 10 shooters, Holy Family counselor Josh Rutz joined in 2014. Assistant coach John Kunze oversees range safety and more parents take on volunteer roles, including scoring at the shooting stations.
Watertown Gun Club Manager Gary Kubasch and Assistant Manager Gene Lack also deserve a bit of credit. They opened their range to Holy Family and other metro high schools, including Chaska/Chanhassen, Watertown, Waconia and Mayer Lutheran, providing a place for students to compete.
“One of the biggest draws to the sport is that you don’t have to be the big, tall guy or the strongest person to make the team,” Kubasch says.
That resonates with team members like senior Ava Kunze, who joined the Holy Family clay target team when she was in eighth grade.
“It’s nice that anyone can do this,” she says. “It’s more of a mind game than a physical type of sport. It attracts more diversity than you get in typical high school sports, and we have a number of girls that have joined since I started.”
Taking Your Best Shot
The first spring season, Maus coached 10 students. Some were introduced to the sport through hunting or shooting with family. For others, it was their first time shooting a shotgun.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids who are interested but haven’t had a chance to shoot,” Maus says. “There’s only one thing kids need to compete—they must complete Minnesota’s Firearms Safety Certification.”
“Probably 50 percent of the kids have never done it before, but if they express interest and if they have their Minnesota Firearms Safety Certificate, they can come give it a try,” Rutz adds. “Some have to wait until they complete the safety class, but they can get in the following season (spring or fall).”
Safety is the number-one priority for the clay target team. There is a huge amount of pride across the state that it is the only sport that has never had an injury. To keep it that way, here is a sample of the rules all high school clay target athletes must follow:
- Shotguns are never allowed at school. Students go home to get their equipment before heading to the gun club.
- Team members are only allowed to handle their own shotgun.
- All shotguns must be made safe during travel and when being handled. That means actions are open and visible to the safety ranger.
- All guns stay in cars, safely stored and secure until all team members arrive, including those coming from middle schools.
- When handling shotguns, team members must have two hands on the gun at all times and muzzles must be pointed in a safe direction.
- No one is allowed on the range without eye or ear protection.
“Our fourth coach is the range safety officer to make sure everything is safe,” Maus says, standing behind the shooters, who line up in groups on five, equally spaced behind each “trap.”
The trap is where the action is. A single clay target is launched into the air when the shooter commands, “Pull.” Seconds later, “POP!” If the target breaks, it’s recorded as a hit. If the target flies straight and is unscathed, it’s a miss. The next shooter steadies, “Pull!” Again, followed by “POP!” The rhythm goes on and on until all shooters have completed their rounds.
Team members must provide their own shotgun. It could be theirs, or one borrowed from a family or friend. A one-time, $200 fee paid by each team member covers all shotgun shells and clay targets.
The team meets five consecutive Tuesdays in spring after school. It’s a virtual competition. Each shooter gets 50 clay targets, 25 in each round. Hits and misses are recorded by a scorekeeper and entered into the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League database the next morning.
“We meet only one day a week, so many of our shooters can do another sport while also competing in trap,” Maus says. The team also competes in a fall league.
Will Swanson, a senior, has been competing for Holy Family since seventh grade and has qualified for the state tournament each year since 2014.
“It just keeps getting tougher and tougher,” Swanson says. “Throughout the league, only 100 kids qualify for the state tournament based on the spring season. With more than 11,000 kids competing, it gets more difficult and they all keep getting better and better.”
Maus says there is a special satisfaction in watching kids grow with the sport, and seeing many Holy Family shooters go from beginner to state qualifier.
“They start out by averaging single digits and they improve pretty quickly,” Maus says. “Last spring, Will made state with an average of 23.8 targets per round. That’s only 12 missed targets out of 250.
“It’s even more fun to see our past middle school kids, like Will and Ava, now running the show and helping younger kids in the sport.”
Community of Anglers
Like clay target, fishing is a sport in which anyone, any size, can excel. And for Schugel, who helped the Holy Family soccer team to the state tournament this year and also competes in hockey, fishing offers a different type of competitive satisfaction.
“It’s not like a sport where you need a team,” he explains. “You need a great partner. You fish against everyone else in the tournament, including kids from your school. The highest combined weight from a five-bass limit determines the winner.”
Schugel adds that fishing offers a different pace from other sports, and because it takes place over the summer months, it allows time to enjoy something refreshingly different.
“It’s pretty calm,” he says. “You’re on the water, tossing lures. And when you get a fish, there is an adrenalin rush that comes with it. It’s something everyone can do, even if you don’t have a lot of experience.”
To get involved, students need their own equipment, a partner, and one boat and volunteer captain per team (two anglers). To help offset costs, the team secures sponsors and receives discounts on fishing equipment.
And the rules?
- Anglers fish in three conference tournaments against 40-50 teams from other schools.
- Five fish limit per team, maximum weight, 12-inch minimum.
- Boat captains can discuss strategy and provide advice, but cannot handle or assist in netting fish.
- Anglers qualify for the state tournament based on a point system, awarded on team finishes.
According to O’Donnell, the greatest reward during the first season was seeing Holy Family anglers support each other. The result—every angler improved tournament-to-tournament, with three Holy Family teams qualifying for the two-day state tournament in Grand Rapids on Pokegama Lake.
“Like clay target, there is a camaraderie on the fishing team,” O’Donnell says. “There is a team component, competition and a social piece that make the overall experience rewarding.”
“The kids are very digitally connected,” he says. “Between competition, they learn new techniques online, give each other tips, and post pictures on what’s working.” A group of anglers also volunteered at the Minnesota Bass Adult state tournament and the Classic Bass Championship. Their reward for doing so was insights from fishing pros and two anglers earned a wildcard spot for the state tournament.
For Schugel, the reward isn’t having the chance to participate in a sport he obsesses about. In fact, as a senior, he cannot compete this summer once he graduates from Holy Family in May.
“I want to see our team do well this summer, and leave Holy Family with a stable group of kids who love to fish and will continue the program,” he says.
Judging by the overwhelming interest in high school outdoor sports, both fishing and clay trap have good shots at growth for many years to come.