By Kayleen Cubbal
CNHI Sports Pennsylvania
Keith Cannon feels that the future of outdoors lies with young people.
That is why seven years ago, he formed the Lawrence County Young Guns, a state-registered nonprofit youth sporting clays team for ages 11 years old through college. The Young Guns operate under the nationally-based Scholastic Clay Target Program, which provides young people with a positive experience in the shooting sports.
The Young Guns are based at the Lawrence County Sportsmen's Association, located in Wampum, just outside of New Castle.
"I had been involved in sporting clay competition for a number of years and when I looked around years back, nowhere did I see activity like that for young athletes," Cannon said. I just felt there was a need for it."
Cannon started with five shooters and now gets 30-40 participants per year, both boys and girls, to participate in sporting clays.
Sporting clays is a form of clay pigeon shooting, often described as "golf with a shotgun," because a typical course includes from 10 to 15 different shooting stations laid out over natural terrain.
Young Guns participants are located throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio and some come from as far as two hours away to practice and participate in events.
"If they want to participate, they're welcome," Cannon said.
And if participants never have shot before, that is no problem.
"Most start from scratch," he said. "Some have a bit of shotgun experience, but I would say 90 percent have never shot sporting clays before.
"Of the three disciplines (trap, skeet and sporting clays), sporting clays is the most difficult in my opinion," Cannon added. But it's a big draw for the kids. We don't have a big turnover. Once most come on board with us, they are here until they graduate from high school and some even stay through college if they're still in the area."
Cannon says he revels in watching the kids begin to experience success and eventually quality for state and national competition, the latter of which is held at the Cardinal Center in Columbus, Ohio. Coaches, all volunteers, are highly trained and experienced in sporting clays.
"You have to put in a lot of time to break a lot of targets and every year, the kids improve more and more," Cannon said. "We've had someone medal at the state level just about every year.
"Most of the coaches I have, have been with me for a number of years. The interesting thing is that none of my coaches has anyone involved in the program. In most sports, parents want to coach their kids and when the kids move on, the parents move on. That isn't the case here. The coaches just love sharing their expertise with these kids."
Other youth organizations are based at Castlewood God & Gun Club near Princeton, at Hunting Hills Shooting Preserve in Greene County and at California Hill Gun Club in California, Pa.
The Young Guns participate in numerous events, including the Shoot for the Cure, an annual benefit held at the Lawrence County Sportsmen's Association to benefit breast cancer research.
The Young Guns' season runs from the middle of March until late July. But volunteers make themselves available at the sportsmen's club each Wednesday night, where team members go to hone their skills during the off-season.
Cannon also is a member of the board of directors at the sportsmen's club, working under president Clint Dicks.
"We wanted to start a program for youth and we were happy when coach Cannon said he would head it up," Dicks said. "A lot of these kids' parents were shooters, so it's great to get the next generation of shooters involved in the sport we love."
The sportsmen's club, in operation since 1907 but at its current location of 3380 Mill Street in Wampum since 2005, currently has 1,702 members — more than double what it did five years ago. Members hail from throughout western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia. The club also has a YouTube channel.
Sporting clays, skeet, trap, 5-stand and clay target games are available and there is a 600-yard rifle range in 100-yard increments and an archery stand with 3D targets, as well as walking courses in the woods with steel-hanging targets. Multiple pistol bays are available, as is tactical pistol practice outdoors, along with an indoor pistol range.
The club is open seven days a week to members. A monthly membership meeting is held the third Tuesday of each month. Anyone interested in joining can complete an application from the club's website two weeks prior to the meeting, then attend.
The club is open to the public every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for anyone wanting to try it out.
"We welcome new members," Dicks said. "We have a beautiful facility and we really think that once you come here, you'll be hooked like we all are."
(Kayleen Cubbal is sports editor at the New Castle News).