Scores of area students in grades 7 through 12 have found a competitive home on shotgun ranges through the Mississippi Scholastic Shooting Program, and their numbers continue to grow.
Now in its fourth year, the program, which is sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, has more than 900 students participating statewide, and those numbers continue to see rapid expansion.
Like its sister program, Archery In Mississippi Schools, which had 80,000 students from more than 500 schools participate in this, its 14th year, its purpose is to introduce and encourage participation in the outdoor sports while instilling life skills like discipline, safety, teamwork, ethics and self-confidence.
Through the Mississippi Scholastic Shooting Program, competitors may take part in the shotgun games of skeet, 5-stand and sporting clays, singularly or in any combination.
In Tupelo, teams have enjoyed their opportunity to practice at the Sullivan Farms Recreational Shooting Area on Mt. Vernon Road, a range created and staffed by the volunteers of Square1 Outdoors.
A place to start
“Our staff has done a great job,” David Ramseyer, with Square1 Outdoors, said. “It’s been a learning process with us. The youth we’re bringing in, we’re sending through the NRA instructors’ programs as well, so it’s a win/win for us. We’re creating new shooters who become new instructors, and they’re sharing the passions they find with more new shooters in turn.”
“I’ve really had a blast working with the kids,” Billy Crumpton, the volunteer shotgun coach for shooters from Shannon and Plantersville, said. Crumpton’s regular job is with Lee County 911.
Like Ramseyer and the rest of the crew at Square1, he works with shooters at the range for compensation that does not come in the form of cash.
A new excitement
“Seeing new shooters get that spark of inspiration and accomplishment?” Ramseyer said, “That’s my paycheck.”
“I have really enjoyed working with these kids, many of whom have never touched a firearm,” Crumpton said. “They’re learning good gun stewardship, discipline and safety, and they’re also garnering a very rewarding sense of accomplishment that only comes through healthy competition. This is not a video game, and it’s unlikely any one shooter is going to win every time, or even much of the time. There are 900 shooters in the MSSP and that number is growing, so what the competition teaches the shooters is to work against their own personal best, to improve the best they can be without worrying about what anyone else is doing.
“If they do that long enough, some day their best can very well be better than anyone else’s. It’s a great, healthy competition that introduces them to friends they’d otherwise never have met, and it’s a practical demonstration of life, where usually not winning but still continuing to compete is the only way ever to succeed.”
“It’s definitely more mental than other sports,” Joe Paul Perkins, an MSSP competition from Mooreville, said.
MSSP teams from Guntown, Saltillo, Mooreville, Plantersville, Shannon, Tishomingo County, Prentiss County and the Square1 range itself all enjoy access to the facility on Mt. Vernon Road. Though the teams are organized through schools, they’re not school sponsored. In the model of bass fishing teams that have arisen in recent years, the MSSP is handled as a club sport. Participants are coached by volunteers and handle their own fundraising.
The MSSP holds qualifying tournaments each November and a state championship each May. In between, teams practice monthly and may also organize tournaments of their own, something Ramseyer and the staff at Square1 look forward to doing as soon as next month, when all the teams that use the Mt. Vernon Road facility will get together.
Getting kids together to shoot, after all, is why they’re there.
Winning the day
“If we’ve got a deck full of kids, we’ve won the competition with technology for those hours,” Ramseyer said. “We have their attention away from the screen and interacting in the outdoors that day.”
Shooters like Tyler Putt, of Saltillo, say though they’d shot and hunted before, the fun of the shotgun games has been an enjoyable surprise.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting out here and learning how to follow and hit a clay target,” he said.
“This is much more of a real live situation than playing baseball or football,” Mason Andrews, from Saltillo, said. “I love it. Just getting outdoors and shooting was always fun, and the shotgun is my favorite gun to shoot.”
Beyond the competition itself, shooters have the opportunity to compete for college scholarships. A number of colleges and universities around the country have shooting teams or are forming them, so the opportunity to follow a newfound pursuit to the next level definitely exist and continue to grow.
Students interested in taking part in the Mississippi Scholastic Shooting Program should ask about it at their schools this fall, or they may reach out to the staff at Square1 Outdoors directly by emailing Ramseyer at email@example.com, or by contacting the group through their Facebook page. Search “Square1 Outdoors” on Facebook to find more.