Raise your hand if you knew Marcus High School had a Clay Target Team! Anyone answering yes should be aware it won its first national titles in June — less than a month after capturing a state championship.

Marcus took the varsity Sporting Clays division at the Texas Youth Education in Shooting Sports (TXYESS) in Waco and Fort Worth and the United States Youth Education in Shooting Sports (USAYESS) events in San Antonio. Participating on both teams were John Perkins, Alex Siebert, Logan Harris, Grant Holdorf, and Hunter Garner. Now a senior, Garner joins Holdorf, a junior, on this year’s team.

Also returning is sophomore Olivia Simmons, who won the girls’ national junior varsity American Skeet and Skeet Doubles. She also joined Max Bradlo, Josh Wynne, James Eade, and Brayden Scott to earn gold in junior varsity American Skeet, American Trap, and Sporting Clays. The intermediate squad finished third in all three disciplines.

Winning state titles at Marcus dates back to 2015-2016, five years after the club was founded as part of the Youth Target Foundation by Jeanie Almond. Her granddaughter, Makenna Van Sant, was one of 12 students who were part of that original team.

Devin Barge, a competitive clay target shooter since the late 1990s who is a multiple nationally-certified instructor and referee and range safety officer, served as co-head coach with Glenn Smoot until 2019 and by himself in 2020-2021 when his daughter Taylor graduated. Barge started as an instructor and has returned to that role this year under new head coach Dave Hubbard, whose son Michael is an eighth grader at Lamar Middle School.

“Success comes from focusing on being good people and doing the right thing,” Barge said. “The sport is simple in concept and the mechanics. It’s fun but not necessarily easy. It’s the same principle as golf and the bow and arrow. It’s all about execution. It’s simple but not easy.”

Barge helped the program grow to as many as 60 members between 2015-16 and 2018-2019. It dipped to about 35 last year and this year due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic which canceled state and national competitions. Students range from sixth graders to high school seniors with those in middle school in the intermediate division, first year in high school on the junior varsity and after that on the varsity. Middle school kids became part of the program in 2016-2017.

Marcus won its first state Youth Target Foundation overall title in 2016 by two targets out of 1,500 after finishing runner-up the previous year. The Marauders repeated in the YTF overall in 2017, captured the Sporting Clays division and was runner-up in overall in 2018 and won the overall in what was called the Texas State Open Championships in 2019.

According to the USAYESS, Marcus is one of about 100 nationwide teams with a total of 2,000 student-athletes. TIME Magazine reported two years ago that high school shooting teams are among the fastest-growing sports in the country.

“What’s great about our sport is using a firearm you don’t have to be incredibly athletic or if you are incredibly athletic but are somewhat limited you can compete,” Barge said. “Anyone with incredible hand-eye coordination blends beautifully into what we do. That and being coachable.”

In addition to the competition, the club provides many leadership opportunities. Students take part in numerous community service opportunities and some serve as team captains.

“We like to make these kids become mentors,” Barge said. “We typically have six to eight captains based on merit. One of their jobs is to find community service events for four or more people to participate every year. It’s part of that outreach program where we try to show we’re great people.”

Plus, every student-athlete undergoes annual training for the proper use of the firearms.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is it is incredibly safe,” Barge said. “The USA High School Clay Target League reported that more than 70,000 students have shot more than 42 million shots since 2008 and not one injury has been reported.”

To introduce new students to the Marcus Clay Target Team, a Try Before You Buy event will be held Sept. 25 from 9 a.m. to noon in Northlake.

“You can meet some of the people on the team, the coaches, the volunteers, and we can actually help you hands-on try the sport,” Barge said.

Hubbard, who coached under Barge last year, is excited about the team’s 2021-22 prospects.

“It’s going to be a matter of my pressure of not destroying what Devin has done. He’s built something amazing here,” Hubbard said. “We have a lot of kids coming back to it’s going to be the continued development of this culture that we have, this team that we have here.”

photos courtesy of Dave Hubbard

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