Shotgun shooting sports are growing by leaps and bounds especially at the high school and college levels. For instance, Bloomberg.com reported in a July 9, 2015 article titled “U.S. High Schools Embrace Shooting as Hot New Sport” that trap shooting is the fastest growing sport in Minnesota high schools while other sources report that nearly 300 colleges and universities offer some type of shooting program. Shooting sports at the college level are not new as some have programs dating back into the 1800’s, but there has been a recent surge in interest and participation. The wave of interest has spread to a community not often associated with firearms—young people with disabilities. This is good news since that is a community with a dire need for opportunities and outlets for physical expression. According to Disabled-world.com, the June 2014 Active People Survey out of England found that “72.1 percent of disabled people take part in no sport or physical activity, compared to 47.8 percent of non-disabled people.”
Combining this sobering statistic with the cultural expansion of the shooting sports has inspired the rejuvenation of the Adaptive Shooting Program of the Education and Training Division at the National Rifle Association. The NRA has a long history of inclusion when it comes to people of all ages, races and abilities so it was no great stretch to boost their flagship program for people with disabilities.
With a new National Manager heading up the Adaptive Shooting Program, the NRA was poised to blast away the barriers between people with disabilities and the burgeoning shooting sports community. The opening salvo was to establish a partnership with the Association of College Unions International (ACUI). ACUI is an international non-profit educational organization founded in 1914 with a mission to build campus communities through collaboration between college union and student activities professionals. To achieve their combined goal, the NRA and ACUI determined that a network of hand selected and specifically trained coaches and competitors would be best to introduce people in wheelchairs to the shotgun sports at the college level. Since the NRA has approximately 4,204 shotgun coaches and ACUI represents nearly 500 learning institutions, there would be no shortage of talent and experience from which to draw.
The challenge initially seemed to be narrowing the search to that one perfect place to start a team but then Derek Marshall and the Attica Consolidated School System of Indiana came to our attention. Mr. Marshall is the Superintendent of Attica Schools and an avid shotgun sportsman. Under his direct leadership, as not only the Superintendent but also the assistant coach of the Attica Trap Team, trap has become a Varsity sport. Their competition roster includes 20 different teams with each averaging three coaches and 15-20 athletes. This development is even more amazing when one considers that Mr. Marshall organized the first team in 2014. That explosive growth speaks volumes about the commitment and energy of Mr. Marshall and his coaches as well as the opportunities for students. As of this writing, there are no competitors in wheelchairs but Mr. Marshall feels that is a temporary condition due to the short time since the inception of the teams and somewhat limited exposure outside of Indiana. While nothing can change the flow of time, a union between the Attica Schools, the NRA and ACUI should be just the ticket to spread the word about shotgun sports for people in wheelchairs.
It is anticipated that there will be some trepidation on behalf of the students. Maybe they were rightly cautioned about the dangers of firearms as a small child but never revisited the topic as they matured. Perhaps because of their abilities they have heard more about the things they can’t or shouldn’t do rather than the things that they can and should. Either way, the diverse team of educators, competitors and health care professionals assembled by the NRA, ACUI and Mr. Marshall will be there to help them make an informed decision. Hopefully the effort will yield six to 12 candidates with an interest in shooting on one of the Indiana trap teams during the 2016-2017 season. Even if the students are on board, there is another large and powerful influence that should never be ignored—parents. Without their support no school system, activity or team can thrive. The Adaptive Shooting Program identifies parent questions and concerns as driving forces in the development of any program involving children. With that in mind, safety is of paramount importance. The NRA’s legendary commitment to safety is known throughout the hunting, defensive and shooting sports communities. You will not read through the first chapter of an NRA publication or sit through the first 5 minutes of an NRA course without learning the three cardinal rules of gun safety.
More importantly, you will not earn the right to call yourself an NRA Instructor without knowing—and flawlessly adhering to—all 11 firearm safety rules. Safety compliance cannot be over stressed when handling firearms. An inability to safely handle and operate a firearm is an absolute contraindication to participation in any shooting sport or activity. In many instances additional training and/or adaptations to the size, weight or caliber of the gun will enable a student to achieve the required standard of safety, but the safety rules themselves will never be modified or adapted. With the dedication to safety firmly established, parents will also need to be assured about the quality of the training their children will be receiving. The excellence and depth of NRA training programs is as well known as its tradition of safety. So tightly entwined are the two, that it’s hard to determine which element was the catalyst in the reaction that formed the NRA in 1871. Indiana’s test pilots for the Adaptive Shooting Program probably won’t know the answer either, but they will benefit from 144 years of world class experience. By combining the latest in technology with nearly 7,400 coaches and trainers around the world covering all age groups, shooting disciplines and abilities, the NRA is the most prepared organization in the world to responsibly escort these newly minted competitors into the shooting sports.
It should be noted that the objective of the NRA Adaptive Shooting Program is not to stop at high school trap teams. With the help of ACUI, and adventurous school administrators like Mr. Marshall, the plan is to expand opportunities for students with disabilities to include their favorite college trap and skeet teams. While this affiliation is a formidable one, nothing will happen without the interest, effort and enthusiasm of students and parents. Will some of these pioneering families be content with this brief introduction to the sport? Will some catch a spark from that original reaction in 1871 and fan it into a lifelong flame for training, competition and appreciation for the shotgun shooting sports? We certainly hope so.