THOMASVILLE — Thomas County Shooting Sports Team members hit the target to three wins — including two championships — at the Scholastic Clay Target Program’s National Skeet and Sporting Clays Championship in Rochester, N.Y., July 15-16.

“It feels good, but the kids are everything,” said Mike Porter, coach. “They are the ones that practice and work and put all the effort into it.”

Senior novice team Matthew King, Chance Porter and Ethan Vinson won the national championship in sporting clays (shooting different targets at different areas, walking from station to station). Their reward was a $1,000 scholarship each, a silver belt buckle and a three-foot trophy.

“I actually was pretty shocked,” said Chance Porter, 19. “I knew we shot real well and everything, but I just figured somebody would shoot better than we did. Our teams did really, really well. I was really shocked about the scholarship money, too. I thought we were going to share it.”

The three-member senior novice team placed third in skeet shooting and won trophies and a $100 scholarship each.

Thomas County Shooting Sports Team (also known as the Thomasville Sharp Shooters) is part of the Scholastic Clay Target Program tournament, supported by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, home to 6,000 to 8,000 shooters.

The local program was started seven years ago by Rick Orso and is now coached by Mike Porter and Roger King, assistant coach.

Youths on the team represented Thomas County Central High School and Brookwood School. Students from all area schools have been involved with the program in the past.

“These kids are very responsible, very polite young gentleman and a lady,” said King. “We had a lot of compliments from the other coaches on the discipline of our kids.”

The youths on the TCSST qualified for nationals at other competitions and two three-person teams made the cut for New York.

MikePorter said all the children have shot with the 4-H program but that the TCSST, although it sometimes combines efforts with 4-H, is separate from that program.

“TCSST members are chosen by tryouts, and we hope that we get enough people to put teams together to compete,” he said. “It takes a lot of time and practice and parent involvement with traveling teams. The team keeps growing, and we have a place we can practice now three days a week.”

The group begins practicing March and shoots some 4-H, state and national events. Members have won awards in previous years for their efforts.

Teams from 29 states were at the national tournament.

“I expected to do as well — if not better — because we did what we could, but to win first, I expected there to be more of a competition,” said Matthew King, 19. “I thought there were other kids closer and that more states would be involved.”

He added he was excited and relieved when his team’s name was called.

“The score sheets are placed where people can go look, and that is usually the coaches,” he said. “Coach Porter said we won something but wouldn’t tell us what.”

Chance Porter, 19, said he had an interesting competition moment.

“I had a 90 millimeter target mini and it kept breaking,” he said. “The lady throwing it kept having to call it broken and start over. The last time I hit one of the birds and the other broke and, in competition, if the thrower doesn’t shout ‘broke bird,’ you have to shoot it anyhow. By the time I realized she hadn’t called it, the bird was only three or four feet from the ground. I shot it and it was probably the greatest thing and the funniest thing to happen to me during the competition.”

The junior novice team, Neill Payne, Allen Glass and Hailey Porter, placed third in sporting clays. They also received a trophy and $100 scholarships.

“It was exciting and fun,” said Allen Glass, 14. “On Sunday, the second day of competition, I shot my first 25 (or shooting all the skeet in one round), and I also won a new 20-gage youth model shotgun. But, our win was a team effort.”

Hailey Porter, 14, was the only girl at the national tournament from Thomasville. She didn’t feel out of place, however.

“I enjoy hanging out with all the guys on the team,” she said. “It’s pretty cool to be recognized and pretty shocking. We weren’t expecting to win at nationals at all — much less in state — but we did it.”

TCSST members said it is not odd for them to be handling guns at a young age.

“There’s a lot of great guys that are shooting. I have liked guns for most of my life,” said Neill Payne, 13. “I like to hunt and do outdoors things.

Payne, who said his “heart was racing the whole time,” said sporting clays was more fun and challenging than skeet.

“I liked the sporting clays because there are a lot of different targets that are going different ways,” he said.

Chance Porter said shooting is fun and a great place to make friends.

“Any time I’m able to shoot a gun, I love that,” he said. “It’s not like other sports. It’s hard and takes a lot of mental concentration. If you break concentration one time, you can lose first place by losing one bird. But, I enjoy getting to know the other guys on the team.”

Ethan Vinson, 17, said all shooters are responsible.

“We’ve all been taking hours of safety courses, and we’re all very responsible,” he said. “It teaches us safety on the field and on the line. I enjoy shooting guns and it gives me something to do and keeps me in touch with the Southern way of life.”

Senior experience team Jason Cone, Tyler Stephenson and Matt Horner also competed in the national competition.

Roger King thanked the competitors and the community for their hard work and support.

“I would like to thank these kids for their hard work and dedication and the Thomas County area for the financial support to get us to Rochester,” he said. “Thanks to those who donated money and to our sponsors.”

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