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Shooting SportS

Aims for Safety, Fellowship

By Karen Templeton • Photos by Scott Corey
Focusing on safety, developing life skills and teaching good Tom Ganann, a Level II shooting sports instructor in Leake
sportsmanship are the priorities of Mississippi’s 4-H Shooting County, has been volunteering with the program for almost 10
Sports program and have made the organization popular years. Ganann said the youth are open to the safety lessons.
with youth. “They are receptive to what we have to tell
4-H Shooting Sports is a national pro- them, and they always put it into practice,” he
gram with more than 300,000 participants said. “I have had no problems with getting
between the ages of 8 and 18. Almost the youth to take safety seriously.”
9,000 Mississippi 4-H’ers participate Shooting sports is a family affair
in the program, and more than 700 for Ganann. His 15-year-old son par-
adult volunteer instructors and 4- ticipates in the program.
H agents provide training and “Being involved in the pro-
leadership. The 4-H’ers have the gram is an opportunity for
opportunity to learn to handle families to spend time together,
the shotgun, air rifle, .22 rifle, air just like with other 4-H activities,”
pistol, .22 pistol, bow and arrow, Long said. “Sometimes children’s
and black powder. involvement gets the parents inter-
“Our program isn’t just about ested and vice versa.”
4 using firearms,” said John Long, The program caters to all youth
the program’s state coordinator and who are interested, including those
assistant Mississippi State University with disabilities.
Extension 4-H youth development pro- “There are some sports that kids with
fessor. “We teach safety, first and foremost, disabilities are unable to participate in,”
and provide an opportunity for youth to develop Ganann said. “But many of them can target shoot,
skills that serve them well for the rest of their lives.” so this serves as the perfect sport for them.”
One such skill is demonstrating respect. 4-H’ers in the Senior 4-H shooting sports participants who score a mini-
shooting sports program learn to respect peers, instructors mum percentage in their event are invited to the State
and firearms. Invitational competition and eventually may represent
“We have to help youth develop an attitude of respect and Mississippi at the National 4-H Shooting Sports Contest. This
seriousness before we let them handle firearms,” Long said. year, the national competition was held in Kerrville, Texas. The
“Instilling respect requires time and instruction and remains at Mississippi team took fifth place overall.
the forefront of every activity.” Ganann served as the .22 pistol team coach and was proud
Trained instructors provide thorough directions on proper that his team took home second place in that area.
handling of firearms and give the children explanations on how “It has been fun to see our team grow and improve over
the firearms work and how they should be used. time,” Ganann said. “Actually, I think I’ve grown as much as the
Stu Wright, a Level II shooting sports instructor in Lowndes kids have.”
County, said it does not take long for safety to become second Wright said the social aspect of the competitions is benefi-
nature for the youth. cial to the youth and their families.
“We give them intensive safety training,” Wright said. “The state and national championships give us a chance to
“Once they’ve got it, they really live it, and safety becomes a part meet kids and their families from all over the state,” he said.
of everything else they do in life.” “Besides enjoying healthy competition, the kids get the chance to
Long reported that the Mississippi program has an excel- make friends outside of their district. Getting the chance to
lent track record; no youth injuries have been associated with spend time with other kids around the state and nation is a nice
the program. reward for all the hard work they put into getting to the compe-
“All statistics support the conclusion that shooting sports, titions.”
under the direction of responsible and capable adult leaders, is a Long said that while all the competitions are important,
safe activity,” he said. “Much of our record is due to the care and youth gain something even more meaningful from the program.
attention our instructors give to safety. It always has and always “We aren’t aiming to produce just champion shooters, but
will get top priority.” rather, champion youth,” he said.
“Our program isn’t just about using firearms. We 5

teach safety, first and foremost, and provide an

opportunity for youth to develop skills that serve
them well for the rest of their lives.”
John Long