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WKHS trap team competes at state

(From left) Thomas Rowlee, Zach Lewis, Blake Maxey, Gavin LeBlanc and Gunnar Frahm all competed at the state clay target tournament last week at the Minneapolis Gun Club. (Photo courtesy of Renee Frahm)

For the second consecutive year, shooters for the William Kelley High School trapshooting team advanced to the state competition after the Clay Target Championship in Alexandria.

Gunnar Frahm, Gavin LeBlanc, Thomas Rowlee, Blake Maxey and Zach Lewis all advanced from the competition in Alexandria to the state competition at the Minneapolis Gun Club in Prior Lake by placing third of 85 teams in the Class A division. During the competition, the schools were further divided into conferences within their class and Frahm, Rowlee and LeBlanc took the top three spots in the conference in Alexandria, respectively.

While there are nine classes at the Alexandria competition, all the classes are combined at the Minnesota State High School League and small schools like WKHS compete against the largest schools in the state.

At the state meet, the team was 34th of 40 teams, but the weather and conditions at the Minneapolis Gun Club present unique challenges for shooters from Silver Bay. Shooters are packed more tightly together at the venue, vehicle traffic near the site and the sheer number of people there makes the environment alien to shooters used to the Silver Beaver Gun Club. In addition windy conditions affected the flight of the targets flying out.

"The whole atmosphere is different," LeBlanc said. "You've got all these people watching you, and there's cars driving by distracting you. The wind was something else and it was taking those birds up, so if you didn't shoot them right away it seemed like they would just keep flying forever. You had to shoot it as soon as it came out of the house."

LeBlanc, who started shooting with his dad and brothers, doesn't have a special technique to his shooting, he just practices frequently and focuses on the task at hand.

"Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate," he said. "Keep your face on the stalk and you have to repeat everything the same way every time. Some kids have special techniques and I just really don't. I guess I really just do it."

On the other hand, Frahm, who holds the team's top average this year, tries to let his mind focus on something else and relies on his reflexes and muscle memory to hit the flying targets. One day, Frahm was out at the gun club and, like many spring days in Silver Bay, it was cold. Instead of intensely focusing on hitting each target, Frahm focused on how cold he was and the technique worked. He hit 25 of 25 birds during that round of practice. During the competition in Alexandria, Frahm got an unintentional assist from a teammate.

"At Alexandria I had hit 20 birds and Thomas Rowlee wanted to mess me up," Frahm said. "We have a joke where we say "pull it" instead of "pull," it's a long story, but in the end it actually felt more like home, so I focused on that, it released the tension and I hit the last five birds for my perfect 25."

While the WKHS team had a few issues adjusting to the conditions at the Minneapolis Gun Club, they have an advantage with the difficult landscape they practice on in Silver Bay. The Silver Beaver Gun Club is a varied landscape that makes it harder on shooters to track targets as they fly away from the house. Instead of shooting on a flat landscape toward a blue sky, there is a hill nearby, trees in the background and eventually some sky over to the far right.

"It creates an inconsistent landscape so the wind blows everywhere and the birds are flying all over the place, so you really have to stay on your toes," Frahm said. "When we got to Alexandria, everything is open field, and all of a sudden you are getting consistent birds, a consistent background and when I got my first 25 I called it 'stealing candy from a baby' because it seemed so easy."

LeBlanc also said he thought shooting at the varied landscape in Silver Bay helped the team and contributes to the success they've had over the last couple of years.

"The background, with the trees and all of that, it's hard looking at the birds with all of those things moving around behind them," he said. "Like I always say, if you can shoot birds at our gun club, you can do it anywhere."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

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