SAN TAN VALLEY — At the age of 16, Combs High School junior Hailey Linnastruth is the top female shooter in her school-based club trap shooting conference.
And with another school year set to begin, she hopes to see more teens take up the sport of trap shooting.
Combs is home to the only school-based trap shooting club in Arizona.
“Before joining the trap club, I had never used a shotgun before,” she said. “My dad encouraged me to join the club and I’m glad I did. It’s fun and I’ve learned a lot.”
The 2020-21 school year for the first year the Combs trap club competed in a national conference. They ended the season with the conference high score and also had the No. 1 female shooter in the conference and the No. 3 male shooter.
“Trap shooting fills a niche in school sports and clubs,” said Combs assistant principal and one of the team coaches, Carl Hill. “Although we do have a football player and a cheerleader on the team, most of the kids don’t do other sports. Whole families come out for practice. It’s fun and the kids learn a lot.”
Teaching gun safety along with a long list of dos and don’ts is a priority in the club.
“Before the kids can even touch a gun, they have to pass a safety course,” Hill said. “They learn how to hold the gun, how to walk with it, where to store it and safety protocols. It’s a very intense training course and this is all before they can start to shoot.”
In a time when some might balk at the idea of teaching teenagers to shoot guns during a school-based activity, Hill said Combs has had support from the parents of students at the school and in the community.
“Trap shooting teaches the kids discipline,” Hill said. “I’ve had kids join who I thought would be goofy when they joined, but they get out there and they are serious and focused. Shooting is an addicting sport.”
The students adhere to the no-guns-on-campus policy and do not practice at the high school.
Practices are held on Saturdays at the Casa Grande Trap Club. Students in the club pay a fee to the USA Clay Target Association and also pay for each round of targets. Although some students own their own guns, others borrow from one of the seven coaches.
“The first thing we learn is a respect for guns,” said Walker Hargis, 15, a sophomore with the team. “We learn how to be safe.”
Hargis is the team’s No. 1 shooter. He finished the season No. 3 in the conference.
At each practice session, students shoot two rounds of 50 clay targets.
The school year has two seasons, a fall season that runs about five weeks and a spring season that lasts about seven weeks and ends with a state tournament.
Austin Guerra, one of seven coaches for the team, said he’s seen many of the students improve their shooting scores during the season.
“I’ve seen many of them go from being able to only hit 10 or 12 of the targets to being able to consistently hit 25 or more,” he said. “I’ve seen their stances and their focus improve.”
Because there are no other high school trap shooting teams in Arizona, the Combs team competes in a national conference that includes teams from across the country.
Because of COVID, the most recent tournament was held virtually, with teams sending in their scores.
The club started last year with nine students. During the 2020-21 season, it grew to include 22 students. While the majority of the students attend Combs, some are from other nearby schools.
Emerson Foot, 15, shoots with the club but attends East Mark High School in Mesa.
It’s open to all young people in grades six through 12. No experience is required.
Without other teams in the state, the club has few opportunities to vie against other kids in face-to-face competitions, but they recently attended an event hosted by a 4H shooting club. They also invited members of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office to compete against the team.
“Our kids held their own against the sheriff’s department,” Hill said.
Going into the 2021-22 school year, Hill hopes the team is invited to tournaments throughout the state and into other states.
He also hopes other schools in Arizona soon start clubs of their own, giving the team more in-state students to compete against. “Trap shooting is one of the safest sports out there. I’d love to see more schools start their own clubs,” he said.