JACKSONVILLE (AGFC) – Young shooters will be taking their shots at a berth to the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program State Championship at regional meets each of the next four weekends. All regional qualifiers and the state championship will take place at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex in Jacksonville.
AYSSP is a program of the AGFC to familiarize young Arkansans with the shooting sports, firearms safety and the joys of the outdoors. Student athletes compete using 20- or 12-gauge shotguns, hitting clays thrown from trap machines that throw targets at unknown angles. All participants must take and pass Hunter Education as part of their training and participate in at least five practice sessions with a certified coach before attending regional qualifiers.
Chuck Woodson, AYSSP coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says few teams ever have an issue meeting the requirements.
"Many teams that participate will have 40 or 50 practices before their regional qualifier," Woodson said. "Very few come to regionals with less than 10 practice sessions."
This is the 10th year of competition for AYSSP. The program has grown from a single state championship meet over a weekend at Remington Gun Club in Lonoke to a massive season of practice, regional qualifiers and state tournament at a new, state-of-the-art facility.
"We were really impressed with that first tournament's turnout of 125 coaches and 918 student athletes," Woodson said. "Today, we have 825 coaches and almost 6,000 student athletes competing each year." Woodson is also very proud that after 10 years, there has not been a single safety incident at AYSSP competitions.
"When done properly, shooting sports are a safe, wholesome activity that practically anyone can enjoy regardless of their physical build or gender," Woodson said. "Male and female participants shoot side-by-side, and we've had some physically disabled competitors at our competitions."
According to Woodson, nearly 50,000 young Arkansans have gone through the program in the last 10 years. There's even more room to grow.
"I've heard from many people in northeast and northwest Arkansas that want to join the program or expand their current squads but they just don't have the facilities," Woodson said. "Any time we see a new public range, we usually see a good response of added shooters from that region."
Each regional qualifier consists of two days of shooting. Junior division shooter (grades 6 through 8) will compete on Fridays. Senior division shooters (grades 9-12) will shoot on Saturdays. The top 16 squads from each region will advance to the state tournament. The state championship follows a bracket-style, single-elimination format with squads competing head to head until the final champions are crowned.
Dates for regional qualifiers and state championship are as follows:
East Regional Qualifier:
April 29 – Junior Division
April 30 – Senior Division
North Regional Qualifier:
May 6 – Junior Division
May 7 – Senior Division
West Regional Qualifier:
May 13 – Junior Division
May 14 – Senior Division
South Regional Qualifier:
May 20 – Junior Division
May 21 – Senior Division
June 3 – Junior Division Championship
June 4 – Senior Division Championship