Extension service hosting shooting sports

Published 12:45 am Sunday, March 29, 2009

NATCHEZ — As popular as hunting is in the Miss-Lou, it comes as no surprise that youth in Natchez are handy with firearms.

For that reason, the Adams County Extension Office has started a 4-H shooting sports program for children ages 8 to 18.

The program is designed to get youth shooters qualified for competition at the district, state and national level.

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“Nationally there are over 300,000 kids that compete in the program, and there are a couple thousand in Mississippi,” said extension associate Melanie Sojourner. “Every year, Mississippi takes several teams to the national competition. We’re hoping to put together a team to go to the state competition and qualify for nationals.”

The district competition will be April 25 in Brandon.

Sojourner said the only qualification for the district tournament is the safety training and one day of practice shooting.

She said there are many children in the area who are already good enough to qualify for at least the state competition.

“With hunting and outdoors being such a large part of Adams County, it’s just a natural fit that we have some kids that have that talent, and that we have the coaches to work with them,” she said. “We actually have a lot of kids in this county that are good enough to go and compete today. A good many could easily compete at the state and national level.”

Sojourner said the area is also fortunate to have some highly skilled volunteer coaches.

One, Jack Withers, of Woodville, was a two-time coach for the U.S. Olympic shooting team, and Vince Barieri is a retired Army military range officer.

“We’ve been real fortunate because we’ve got access to three or four volunteers who are nationally trained and certified,” Sojourner said. “Charles Jordan is heading this effort for us and serving as coordinator. Walter Harrison and John Kerwin have also volunteered.”

Shooting sports also offer scholarship opportunities, Sojourner said.

Every team in the Southeastern Conference and most major universities have competitive shooting teams.

“Let’s be honest, how many kids are going to get baseball or football scholarships?” she said. “But this is something they can go on and do at an Olympic level, and it’s something they can do throughout their lives, whereas most sports you do eventually grow out of.”

The extension had its opening day March 21 at the Adams County Sheriff’s Range on Foster Mound Road, where youth received a safety training session before an afternoon of shooting archery, shotguns, air and .22 rifles and air pistols. Sojourner said 19 children showed up for the event. The next shooting day will be April 4 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“I know some of these kids are getting one-on-one practice time with some of the volunteers and trying to get in practice between the group dates,” Sojourner said. “April 4 is the last chance to get in the safety training to qualify.”