"It went better than ever," said Mike Bonds, assistant chief of the AGFC Education and Outreach Division. "It was a smooth event."
Regional competitions were held each weekend in May at the Remington Gun Club with 400-600 participants each day. The top 64 junior (grades 6-8) and senior (grades 9-12) teams qualified to compete for the state championship. About 4,200 youth participated; about 2,400 were involved last year.
In the senior division, Harrisburg Hornets AAA won first place and a $7,500 team scholarship. Huntsville Squad One took second place and a $5,000 scholarship. The Mountain Home Bombers Bomb Squad won third place and a $2,500 scholarship. The Searcy Claybusters, seeded 14 in the 16-team field, finished fourth.
The top three junior division teams were the Harrisburg Hornets Squad A in first place, Ozark Youth Shooting Team Junior Gold in second and Southside Skeeters (Bee Branch) in third. The top three teams won prizes.
"We're just thrilled to death," said Steve Johnson, coach of Huntsville Squad One. "We've been fortunate the past two years to win. We were happy to win the runner-up position."
Several new elements were part of championship weekend. Shooters may qualify for the Junior Olympics if they do one of the following: shoot 24 of 25 targets in the junior division, hit 48 of 50 targets in the senior division or qualify as one of the top 32 squads in the division. Representatives from USA Shooting and colleges across the country were on hand to attract youth and further the sport of shooting. Graduates of the hunter safety course entered to win prizes.
AGFC Shooting Sports Coordinator Chuck Woodson applauded the championship's organization and said he was pleased with the results.
"Since we are the No. 1 tournament in the nation, a lot of shooting entities have come out of the woodwork," Woodson said. "There's no other state that has 4,000 shooters in one group. This is one of the greatest retention and recruitment tools there is.
"It's just a good, safe sport to get into. There's no other sport where a 9-year-old and a 90-year-old can compete at the same level."
The AYSSP is open to any youth. They learn to safely operate a firearm and acquire respect for one another.
"Just about everybody can participate in the program on some level," Bonds said. "The kids are great. I'm always impressed by their maturity and their attention to safety."