by TIM CRAIG
What started as a way to get involved in the community has turned into a competitive sport as Warner University will field its first-ever Sporting Clay Shooting team set to compete during the 2018-2019 season.
The school started sending students to hosted events around the area as a unique way to get students and the University interacting with people in the Agricultural industry, according to Scarlett Jackson, director of Agricultural Programming at Warner. That effort led to the fundraising shoot on the Warner campus hosted by President David Hoag. With the success of that shoot, Hoag and Jackson saw the potential to take it to the next level.
“With the level of interest we have in our agricultural program, it really made sense to start this athletic program,” says Hoag. “We have some of these students who compete on a national level, so I’m really excited to see what they can accomplish.”
The job of helping shape the students from recreational friend-raising to competition team fell on the shoulders of coach Virgil Minshew. The Winter Haven native had been working with a group of about 100 young people aged 8-18 through the Quail Creek Plantation in Okeechobee. Warner’s Jackson got Minshew’s name through a mutual acquaintance, and he started working with the students last year.
“Once we got started, I took the team to a couple smaller, local events to get them some experience,” says Minshew. “This year, I’d like to start to take them to some larger collegiate events.”
The sport of clay shooting runs on a slightly different calendar than other collegiate sports. In this case, the season typically runs from December through October, said Minshew. But this could work to the young team’s advantage.
“I would really like to take them to the national tournament (in October),” says Minshew. “Not necessarily to compete this year, though that would be great to get in; but to just get the kids to experience that event would provide benefits as we move forward.”
Minshew knows a bit about gaining experience. He has been involved in the sport off and on for over 25 years. He won the four Florida Sporting Clays Association State Championships, including three in a row (1999, 2000, 2001). He won his fourth in 2007. In 1999 he won a Sporting Clay World Cup event in France and in 2001 at the Sporting Clay national championship he finished fifth out of 1,600 competitors. He has been coaching the team at Quail Creek for the past five years.
This shooting and coaching experience gives Minshew the perfect perspective with this team in its infancy. It all comes down to fundamentals.
“The main goal this year is to get off them using the correct fundamentals,” says Minshew. “As with any sport, in order to improve, you must refine your skills in a controlled setting so that when you get into a competition where it’s a little less controlled, you have something to rely on.”
Competitive shooting is a bit different than other mainstream sports in that it doesn’t matter which hand or foot is dominant; in shooting, it’s which eye is dominant. Minshew, who is left-handed, shoots with his right because that’s the dominant eye.
“Once you know which eye is dominant and are able to set the proper shoulder, you shoot with both eyes open and can properly use your peripheral vision,” says Minshew. “I’d say this type of shooting is more like hitting a baseball. A batter will use both eyes to focus in on the ball and make a decision to swing; someone shooting in sporting clay will use their peripheral vision to detect and then lead the target.”
At the team’s first information meeting, Minshew was pleased to see two of his top shooters from last year in the group: Duncan Sikkema, a junior from Bradenton, and sophomore Peter Jones, who brought some clay shooting experience with him to Warner.
“We have a lot of new shooters on the team, but I think that we should be better than last year,” says Sikkema. “We are looking forward to shooting on a bigger competition platform so we will see how we do.”
Minshew says he would like to hold formal tryouts — open to any interested eligible student — in the middle of September. From those tryouts, he’ll choose the seven best, with possible alternatives, to make up the team.
“From there, I’m going to have some suggestions on how we proceed and we’ll work with the school on how to best choose the right events for our team,” he says. “This can be an expensive sport, but we’ll do what we can in order to put the team in the best position possible.”