Clay target shooting program takes off at Manassas High


It seemed an unlikely place to form a clay target shooting team.

Dreon Cash, center, and members of the Manassas Trap Team practice shooting clays. Manassas is the first inner-city school in Tennessee to field a Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program team.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

Funding would be an issue. Transportation to and from the practice range could be tricky.

And the biggest hurdle for bringing the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program (TNSCTP) to Manassas High School in Memphis was the fact that those who were being recruited to participate had no familiarity whatsoever with the sport.

“There was a world of obstacles to overcome,” said Jim Crews, 75, a Memphis-area shooting enthusiast who was instrumental in launching the program at Manassas. “The students there had no exposure to clay target shooting, very little exposure to outdoor activities, and didn’t know which end to load a shotgun.

“But I’ll tell you, if God hadn’t wanted this to happen, it wouldn’t have happened. There were so many things that providentially took place that I’m convinced got it to happen.”

It took several months of working out the logistics, but Manassas High had fielded a bona fide clay target shooting team by April. The initial squad consisted of nine boys and two girls, and with enthusiasm continuing to grow, Manassas is expected to be ready for the various tournaments in the 2013 TNSCTP season.

“We’re well ahead of where we thought we were going to be,” said Carl Coleman, Manassas head football coach who has been helping out with the clay target shooting team. “They took to it pretty fast. We actually had some pretty good shooters.”

Manassas High School, a primarily African-American school located in a poverty-stricken area of North Memphis, may be best known for the Academy Award-winning documentary “Undefeated,” which chronicled the school’s turnaround football season of 2009. Prior to that season, the Tigers had suffered through years upon years of hapless times on the football field.

The saga of the clay target shooting team may not have the dramatic or emotional force of the film, but there is a parallel of sorts. Most of the state’s clay target scholastic programs are either in private schools or in public schools in affluent areas. Manassas is the first inner-city school in Tennessee to field a TNSCTP team.

Crews said he was at a shooting range in the summer of 2011 watching teams practicing, and came up with the idea for his pitch.

Jim Crews, seated, reviews scores with members of the Manassas Trap Team. Manassas is the first inner-city school in Tennessee to field a TNSCTP team. 

“I got to thinking to myself, if we could take a program like (the TSCTP) to an inner-city school, it might have a dramatic effect,” he said, “at least on a small number of students who have never been exposed to anything like that.”

Darione Smith, a junior who plays tackle on the football team, is one of those students. He had no idea there was even such a sport, but he was eager to give it a try.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a natural at it, because it takes a lot of practice and hard work,” said Smith, who added that it also takes good hand-eye coordination. “When the target comes out, you’ve got to watch the target. You can’t look at the gun; you’ve got to keep your eye on the target and feel where the gun goes.

“We’re getting better. I feel we’re ready for competition.”

Unlike most of the schools participating in the TNSCTP, Manassas students and their parents can’t really afford to buy the equipment or otherwise fund the sport on their own. So with the help of a volunteer, Crews applied for a grant from the NRA Foundation for shotguns, ammunition and safety materials. He and others also secured private donations as well as funding from the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.

In addition, the team has relied on volunteers to help transport the students to practices at the Memphis Sport Shooting Association’s trap fields, some 30 miles from the school. Even though it’s a haul to practice, Crews said it was important for the students to be among other teams from the Memphis area.

“That was a big step,” he said of being able to use the MSSA facility, “because I wanted them in the mainstream of the sport and not stuck out somewhere where they were the only ones practicing.”

Coleman, who has no clay target shooting experience but is a hunter, said the sport has literally and figuratively taken students beyond their boundaries.

“I think it helps take them outside their environment and their culture, and they have actually liked that,” he said. “I think this is another stepping stone to show them they can do something else besides playing football, baseball or basketball.”

The TNSCTP is part of the TWF, with key partner support from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

The Daily News supports the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.