written by kaitlyn stockton | photos provided by Christ Academy
The Christ Academy’s Clay Target Academy (CACTA) offers opportunities for students to participate in the disciplines of American Trap, American Skeet, and Sporting Clays. Through the academy, coaches teach the safe use of firearms while providing a unique way to learn the basics of shooting at flying targets. The Christ Academy partners with the YTF and Northwest Texas Field & Stream to provide students with a training facility, gun safety, and competitions. The YTF is a non-profit organization that promotes and protects the traditions of target sports.
In 2015, the YTF decided to branch out into Wichita Falls schools. The organization often works with schools and communities to provide scholarships, programs, and funding for students involved in target sports. At first, the YTF found that many schools had little interest. However, the organization would soon turn to Jessica Pira, the Director of the Business Leadership Academy at Christ Academy, for help. “They asked me to throw the idea out there,” she said. “The school was resistant at first, but the YTF talked to them about the opportunities the group would bring to the students. They also assured the school that no students would be put at risk.” Jessica would become the liaison for the team and eventually the sponsor for the team’s board. “Being the teacher sponsor was an easy fit,” she said. “Since I was involved in the leg work, I am able to make sure everyone has the right information.”
Jessica, Addison & Lewis Pira
“Through the experience, students have learned responsibility and gained confidence in themselves. ” ~ Jessica Pira
As the school looked for potential coaches, many suggested Robin and Donna Ritchie, Jessica’s parents. The family’s passion for shooting runs through several generations. One of the first students to sign up for the team was their own granddaughter, Addison Pira. As business owners, the Ritchies were hesitant at first. They had a company to run. However, they did not let this stop them. “They just love the sport and just wanted to see it happen,” Jessica said. “We just didn’t say no,” Robin jokes. “Four years ago, we said we’ll try.”
Many students immediately excelled at the sport and made friends with students they may have never encountered otherwise.
With the coaches selected, Christ Academy became the first school to offer clay target practice as an elective. During the first year, the team only had five students, the minimum requirement for a team. Through the experience, students have learned responsibility and gained confidence in themselves. “Students in the CACTA definitely grow up a bit,” Jessica said. “Students take multiple hours of safety training every year and are also responsible for policing each other. Safety is always first. Students are also held to a strict code of conduct to ensure everyone’s safety.”
“You meet lots of people from all over the world.” -Robin & Donna Ritchie
The students must bring all their safety gear and other needed supplies. If they forget, the students are not allowed to shoot that day. Many students immediately excelled at the sport and made friends with students they may have never encountered otherwise. “You get to see the passion they have for the sport and see them excel in a short period of time,” Robin said. “That’s why we coach.” Robin and Donna’s granddaughter has enjoyed being a member of the team and having the opportunity to improve her shooting skills. “I like hitting the target and watching it explode,” Addison said. “You get to hear everyone cheering for you.” Under the Ritchies’ leadership, the team has grown to 17 members. With such a large team, they have added other coaches to their team including Elain Schultz and her assistant Garrett Walsh.
Alex Barry at YTF Trap Competition
In the past, the team often worked together to hold fundraisers and other events. However, in recent years, they have begun to participate in many more contests. In shooting sports competitions, there is no such thing as age group or other types of divisions. All participants can compete against each other regardless of age, gender, school, or location. “You meet lots of people from all over the world,” the Ritchies said, “It’s a competition of course, but the friendships you make outweigh the competition.” Through the competitions, students have the chance to win scholarships.
Coach Donna & Robin Ritchie with past team member Lauren Spragins
However, students do not earn scholarships only from shooting. All participating students must become members of YTF and run a student board for their school. Students on the board hold leadership positions and serve as mentors for other students. Addison currently serves as president of the board. “Serving on the board is fun because you get to have a voice on decisions for the academy,” she said. “I also really like to represent cool things that my school has to offer.” Through the board, students also partake in such activities as creating marketing materials and organizing local competitions. Students can be nominated for scholarships for performing such feats.
Koen Sternadel, North Jackson, & Carson Kosub
Overall, the CACTA offers students an opportunity to learn a sport that welcomes all. “The sport gives kids a place to shine even if they may not be athletic,” Donna said. “There’s a place for everyone.” †