Some of the kids competing this week at the National 4-H Sport Shooting Championship on Grand Island will go on to compete on an even bigger stage.
What 4-H officials have seen over the years is “an increase in the number of young people starting in the 4-H program and reaching the Olympic level,” said Conrad Arnold, program coordinator. for the National 4-H. -Shooting sports committee H.
In 2021, the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team had 25 competitors. “Half of them started out in 4-H shooting sports,” said Arnold, who lives in Trappe, Maryland.
Florida native Vincent Hancock won three Olympic gold medals. Hancock, 33, now lives in Texas.
So there is a good chance that this week on Grand Island you will see a young sniper who will one day represent his country.
A total of 691 competitors are on Grand Island this week for the National 4-H Sport Shooting Championship. Most events take place at Heartland Public Shooting Park. Air rifle and air pistol competitions are held inside Fonner Park, to limit wind interference.
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4-H shooters are between 14 and 18 years old. For 4-H members, age is measured as of January 1. So some of the young shooters in town are actually 19 years old.
Competitors come from 39 states. Longtime match manager Steve Pritchard likes those numbers.
“We’re up 99 competitors from last year,” he said.
After the tournament was canceled in 2020, the 2021 competition was the first held since the start of the COVID pandemic. Teams from multiple states were unable to make it to the 2021 event.
“They’re back this year,” said Pritchard, who lives in Albion.
Competitors compete in nine disciplines – air pistol, air rifle, compound archery, hunting techniques, muzzle loader, recurve archery, shotgun and pistol and .22 rifle .
Shotgun and compound shooting attract the most participants.
Seven states have brought full teams to the tournament – Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, South Dakota, North Carolina and Texas. A full roster means the state has three or four competitors in each discipline. Mississippi is just short of a full team.
Some states clearly have strong 4-H shooting traditions.
These states have higher numbers of attendees, support from university extension programs, good volunteer totals, and facilities available to shoot.
But it all likely depends on the availability of interested instructors and coaches, Arnold said.
“It’s the foundation of all 4-H programs, it’s the interest of volunteers,” he said. “Without volunteers, this program would be nothing.
That goes for any 4-H program, whether it’s shooting sports, horses or livestock, Arnold said.
“That’s something we’ve been pushing hard for, is multi-state support for the event to avoid burnout in Nebraska,” Arnold said.
Shooting championships are “such a huge event, requiring so many volunteers” and extension staff, he said.
“We love having him here,” Arnold said. “But we don’t want to exhaust our welcome and exhaust the people supporting him here from Nebraska.”
On Tuesday, 141 volunteers were helping, coming from all over the country.
These volunteers love helping out every year and make a great team, Arnold said.
The main team – you’d have to beat them to stay home for that,” Arnold said with a smile.
4-H competitions are unique in that they give more people a shot at national championships. At any National 4-H event, a participant may only participate in an event once. They are, however, free to see how far they can go in any of the other eight shooting disciplines.
One of the reasons 4-H shooters love Grand Island is its central location.
Also, “They have very good shooting facilities here on the range,” Arnold said.
The Heartland Events Center is ideal for evening programs.
One of them was the opening ceremony on Monday. Another was a teen social night held on Tuesday night.
When parents and coaches gather with attendees, attendance at the Heartland Events Center could total 2,300 to 2,500 people.
The event is getting good local support, Arnold said, noting “Hornady’s has been a great supporter.”
Shooters and families appreciate the warm welcome that the city offers them.
Arnold knows the tournament brings revenue to local businesses.
“But they’re nice people and they’re good for the program,” he said.
Some of the families are camping at Heartland Public Shooting Park. “But I think the majority of people stay in local hotels,” Arnold said.
Efforts are made to stop the competition each day at 1 p.m., so families have the opportunity to relax and explore local attractions.
This is the 12th time Grand Island has hosted the National 4-H Shooting Sports Championship.
After the city hosted in 2008 and 2009, the event returned in 2012. With the exception of the COVID year of 2020, it has been there ever since. Talks are underway to extend the arrangement into the future, said Arnold, who has attended every championship since 2002.
To host the national 4-H shooting event, “it takes a cooperative community. You have to have the facilities. You have to have the volunteers,” Pritchard said.
Grand Island’s location is also ideal, he said.
Three states do not have 4-H shooting sports programs.
Last year, competitors from Alaska made their way to national championships for the first time. It’s a long trip from Alaska to Nebraska.
“I hope they will come back in the future. They couldn’t come this year,” Pritchard said.
He noted that the Hawaii shooters had yet to compete in the national 4-H tournament.
“So we’re continuing to work on those,” Pritchard said.
This year’s tournament will end on Friday.
“I encourage the public to come out,” Pritchard said. “Take a look at some of the great young people we have representing the 4-H program across the country. I would like you to come cheer on a team, cheer on an individual or nothing at all.
People should take the opportunity to “visit some of these children and the families that are coming. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Pritchard said.