The thought of joining a shooting team thrilled St. Mary's sophomore Kaden Westfall.
He's been hunting since he was a kid. That activity is synonymous with his other childhood memories, like attending school for the first time or going on a family trip.
So when he heard that his high school was creating a shooting team, he was one of the first to sign up.
And it's not just about the act of shooting a shotgun.
"I think it’s important because it teaches kids gun safety," Westfall said during a practice last month at the Pikes Peak Gun Club, just east of Colorado Springs. "It's not evil. … Any person can use it. You don't have to be a hunter. You can be anybody."
He's one of 17 students who joined St. Mary's newest sport, which was introduced this school year. Though shooting isn't a new concept at the high school level, the Pirates are the first prep program in Colorado to be sanctioned by the Scholastic Clay Target Program. They will compete with 11 other SCTP club teams in the state.
The new sport at St. Mary's will allow all students to compete, including those who might have limitations that prevent them from participating in other high school sports, said Amy Partain, the school's director of communications.
"It allows another source to express their talent because not a lot of kids are athletic," said junior Cole Ciccarelli, who's been shooting since he was 8. "Some kids might have a bad knee, and this gives them another way to express their skills and go through high school in another sport."
The idea of forming this new coed sport at St. Mary’s started in June. Dan Mersman, one of the coaches, said school administrators and parents have been supportive from the beginning.
Each participant is reminded daily what he or she is getting into.
“We’re really doing the right things with the kids,” Mersman said. “Every shooting, every practice, we have a safety speech. We make it mandatory for every kid to attend a gun safety course.”
At St. Mary’s, participation with the school’s shooting team could mean earning a varsity letter or possible scholarship opportunities.
This sport is not sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association. So far, the organization oversees 24 sports. The last sanctioned sport added was boys’ lacrosse, in 1999.
Bert Borgmann, assistant commissioner at CHSAA, said that the organization is looking to polish its policy for adopting a new sport. Some of the things members look for include the number of interested schools, safety issues and the cost, he said.
“There's a lot of sports out there playing as club at schools that have a lot of kids’ participation,” Borgmann said. “Boys’ volleyball comes to mind. There are things that schools have to look at. Schools also have to feel like they can afford to have them. There's a lot of thing that goes into it.”
The team will compete in the Colorado SCTP Fall Fun Shoot at the Pikes Peak Gun Club on Nov. 11 to kick off competition season.