Record-breaking participation is the name of the game for the USA Clay Target League this year. According to the organization’s annual impact report, which was released earlier this week, the league boasted 49,337 registered student-athletes in 2023, competing on a total of 1,647 high school, college and homeschool teams.
There were 13,815 new student-athletes that participated in league activities in 2023, along with 198 new teams added. Additionally, there were 10 USA Clay Target League tournaments in 2023 that each had more than 1,000 student-athletes competing.
A remarkable 62.8 percent of USA Clay Target League student-athletes have never participated in clay target shooting prior to joining the league.
More about the USA Clay Target League: “With just under 50,000 participating athletes in 2023, the 501(c3) non-profit USA Clay Target League is the largest youth clay target shooting sport program in the nation. The League offers trap, skeet, sporting clays and five-stand leagues to secondary and postsecondary schools across the country.”
At the high school level, there were 8,565 first-time clay target shooters this year. Plus, there were 240 high school teams that participated in the 2023 USA Clay Target League National Championship, held in Mason, Mich., this past July.
“I like the excitement of breaking clays—it is my favorite sport,” USA Clay Target League student-athlete Logan Clarke of Potter Valley High School in Potter Valley, Calif., said. “Who knew it could be a school sport? I get to shoot with good friends, meet new people and bring home trophies for the school.”
With its 100 percent school-approved programs, the USA Clay Target League is increasing youth shooting sports participation with great success. For example, in Spring 2022, Kent Island High School in Stevensville, Md., became the first public high school in the state of Maryland to participate in the USA High School Clay Target League. The new team has become a huge hit with students, including varsity athletes from other sports, as well as with kids who weren’t previously involved in any school activities.
“I think that is the greatest asset to this League,” Kent Island High School Clay Target Team Head Coach Sean Connolly said. “Everyone participates the same amount. No benchwarmers, no waterboys. This sport gives every student a chance to be part of a team at their high school. That gives so much to the students other than the skills learned on the range.”
Collegiate and university involvement in the USA Clay Target League is also on the rise, with college league teams growing by 52 percent, and the number of student-athletes participating up 32 percent. In addition, 30 percent of student-athletes and half of the head coaches in the college league came from USA Clay Target League high school activities.
Since 2010 with a total of 348 registered student-athletes, the USA Clay Target League has seen a meteoric rise in participation over the last decade, with nearly 12,000 registered by 2014, jumping to 49,337 student-athletes in 2023.
“The League continues to grow beyond all expectations,” John Nelson, the president of the USA Clay Target League said. “Participation continues to set records each year, and the League is poised to continue its success into 2024.”
It’s not just the kids, either. Shooting ranges that host USA Clay Target League teams reported an 81 percent overall increase in non-youth participation.
“Coaches, parents, schools and shooting ranges are the heroes that make participation in the League a safe and fun activity for student-athletes,” Nelson said. “Students are developing themselves and their teammates into respectful, responsible young adults while developing relationships that will extend far beyond the shooting range.”
USA Clay Target League student-athletes have also raised more than $17 million in conservation dollars through Pittman-Robertson excise taxes since 2020.
Next year, the USA Clay Target League anticipates 53,000 student-athletes on its rolls, along with 11,000 volunteer coaches competing at a total of 1,300 shooting ranges. A revamped website will also make its debut in early 2024.
By the end of 2025, the USA Clay Target League has the goal of reaching 100,000 registered student-athletes.