Tuesday, October 16, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Shooting sports find new home

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville will be the host of next year’s Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Programs regional and state tournaments. Gov. Mike Beebe led a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday to begin work on the $2.1 million facility that will include 13 gun ranges, an archery range and pistol range.

The AYSSP is the largest of its kind in the nation, with more than 7,000 people, including 6,000 student competitors and 1,000 volunteer coaches, taking part in the regional and state events each year.

Tournaments have been held at Remington Gun Club in Lonoke. State Rep. Mark Perry noticed the need for a larger facility while working as a volunteer coach along with Phillip Carlisle for the Jacksonville High School and Lighthouse Charter Middle School teams.

Perry approached AYSSP director Chuck Woodson with the observation that the sport was outgrowing its current site.

“I went up to Chuck and said it looks like you need a bigger place,” Perry said. “He said why don’t you find us a bigger place. I said I’ll work on that. For the last two years that’s what Phillip and I have been doing. I brought him in and said I need your help. We started putting the grease to the wheels and putting the wheels in motion.”

Woodson said at the rate the sport was growing, a larger facility was definitely needed. With more and more students becoming involved in the sport, and the current facility at capacity already, more weekends were going to be needed to accommodate the participants, which could slow growth.

“Mark Perry saw first-hand the recruitment and retention that was going on in this sport,” Woodson said. “We had reached our capacity. We were going to have to start adding more and more weekends to the competitions. We thought with the Game and Fish Foundation’s support, it’s a great opportunity to have bigger and better fields. We always need more fields. No matter if a city is putting in a three-range outfit or a 40-range outfit, we need more field all across the state.”

Jacksonville’s facility will also feature an archery range, which will eventually include a 3-D range. Curtis Gray, coordinator of the Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program, says archery has grown almost as rapidly as trap and skeet shooting sports.

“When we started in 2008 we had about 25 schools and now we have about 450,” Gray said. “Our thing is, we just want everybody to try it. The way the program is engineered, we do it 10 days a year and it’s in-class curriculum. We don’t care where. At Cabot the agri department does and they do it in P.E. classes in Little Rock. It’s just whatever works out best. If it works out then they can put a competitive team together.”

Jacksonville’s range will be outdoors, so the state tournament isn’t likely to leave Hot Springs, where it’s currently held at an indoor facility. But Gray sees other opportunities for Jacksonville’s new range when it is completed in March.

“What we’re trying to do here is bridge this gap,” Gray said. “We’ve got a lot of kids who are live with shooting archery in their gym. From an agency standpoint, we want to get them to be in love with shooting archery outdoors and going hunting. We’ve started this year opening a 3-D range in Crooked Creek and Yellville up north. There’s one down in Grandview close to hope and we’re about to open one in Fort Smith and one in Jonesboro. And this is going to sort of be the crown jewel right here in the middle of them all.

“It’ll have the 3-D range with the hunting scenarios where you’re shooting through the woods, and on lanes And maybe one day we’ll be able to hold some major archery shoots here, so pro-am and stuff like that. You get 3,000 people to come in and shoot archery for a weekend, they also fill up the restaurants and hotels.”