LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – Half of the 2011 Junior Olympic Shotgun Team is from Arkansas.
Those five also are current or recent members of teams that compete in the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program, created and managed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The announcement came in late January from USA Shooting, the governing body of Olympic shooting events.
"This is a great honor for student athletes involved in the sport of trap shooting, and is the first stage on the road to achieving an Olympic dream," said Chuck Woodson, AYSSP coordinator. "There are only 10 spots available for this prestigious team and it's filled from elite competitors across the United States."
The five Arkansans are Haley Colbert of Texarkana, Hunter Gallant of Cord, Josh Hall of Mount Ida, Austin Odom of Benton and Wesley Wilcox of Greenbrier.
Bret Erickson, coach of the team, sent Woodson a letter congratulating him for the success of AYSSP and pointing out that half the team is from Arkansas.
"It shows what a quality program you are running," Erickson wrote. "We look forward to a great and continued relationship with the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program."
Here's a look at the five Arkansans.
Gallant, a 2010 graduate of Batesville High School, attends University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville. He enjoys hunting, fishing, basketball and, of course, shooting.
"I got involved in the Arkansas Game and Fish shooting program three years ago as a junior in high school," said the 18-yar-old. "It got me involved again in a sport that I love and hadn't done in several years."
And he's excelled.
"The first year in competing in this program gave me the chance to shoot in the Arkansas Junior Olympic State Qualifier. It then provided me the opportunity to go to Colorado to compete in the National Junior Olympic shoot. I made the Junior Olympic team the following year.
"I appreciate the opportunity and the chance the Arkansas Game and Fish shooting program gave me because it has given me the dream to strive to become a better shooter. Maybe someday I can make the national or world team so that I can represent my country not only in overseas competitions, but maybe one day in the Olympics."
Colbert, 16, is a junior who's very active in campus life at Arkansas High School in Texarkana. She had never held a gun until three years ago when she joined the Razorback Trap Team after her father convinced her to give shooting a try.
She's excelled by winning gold medals at the Arkansas Junior Olympic qualifying shoot. She was invited to the Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs, Colo., and competed in the Shotgun National Championships and USA Shooting selection matches. She recently was No. 19 in women's trap shooting in the USA Shooting rankings.
"I plan on trapshooting for a long, long time," Colbert said. "I would love to advance in USA Shooting and one day make the national team and work toward being an Olympian. That would be my dream."
Colbert credits her coaches – John Wilson, Gary Nolte and Bill Brock – and the AYSSP for her success. She's taken what she's learned about shooting afield and become an Arkansas hunter.
Hall, 15, likes to hunt and fish. He's been shooting for two years and is a member of the Mount Ida High School Trap Team, coached by Travis Dollar and Jonathan Rowland. Hall's an A student who plays football, basketball and baseball, and pole vaults.
"I started shooting with the AYSSP with my junior high school Future Farmers of America team," Hall said. "I would not have started shooting had it not been for this program. It exposed me to Olympic trap shooting through the state Olympic qualifier held in Arkansas. I was rewarded with a trip to the Olympic Training Center for a development camp. This was a wonderful experience for me and a chance to learn a great deal."
Hall finished second overall at that camp. He also was first (eighth overall) in his division at the 2009 Arkansas Junior Olympic Qualifier in 2009, and third (fifth overall) in 2010.
"I would love to represent my community, state and country in the Olympics
someday," Hall said. "I know this is going to be a long journey and this is only a small step in that direction. Hopefully, with hard work and dedication, I can make that dream
Odom, a 15-year-old sophomore at Benton High School, began shooting competitively in the AYSSP, 4-H and Scholastic Clay Target Program in 2007. He is a 2010 and 2011 member of the Junior Olympic Bunker Trap Team.
"The Game and Fish shooting program, AYSSP, introduced me to the sport of trap shooting and taught me the basic skills I needed to compete in bunker trap," Odom said. "My dreams include earning my way on the junior development team, development team, national team and eventually earning an Olympic quota slot."
Odom has many first-place finishes in his shooting career, including 4-H, AYSSP and Junior Olympic events.
Wilcox, a freshman at Arkansas Tech University, has placed highly in several state and national tournaments. He won gold medals at the 2009 and 2010 Arkansas Junior Olympic State Qualifier, a silver medal at the Olympic Development Camp in Colorado Springs and finished eighth in the men's open in the 2010 USA Shooting Fall Selection Match.
"The AYSSP has helped me in numerous ways, although one that points out in my mind is furthering my shooting career and allowing me opportunities to receive scholarships," Wilcox said. "The program is excellent for young shooters to be introduced to the competitive side of the sport, which teaches discipline, heart and sportsmanship."
Now that Wilcox has a foundation, he has set goals.
"My plans for the future are to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London. My accomplishments have prepared me for my goals. My sights are set high for the days ahead."
He also has a tip for shooters entering the sport.
"Don't be afraid of losing – it only makes you stronger. The best winner will accept his defeats and grow upon his failures."
Woodson says the hard work of the AGFC and its Education and Outreach Division is paying off.
"This is a perfect example of how this program is much more than just handing out shotgun shells and targets to young people of our state to go shoot," Woodson said. "It is investing in their futures and helping them pursue dreams.
"I know I can speak for these athletes, parents, their coaches and most definitely for myself when I say thank you for your support of this wonderful program. It is definitely making an impact in young people and their families' lives."