Three years after starting the program from scratch, the Henry County Sharp Shooters are state champions, and could be gunning for a national title as well.
The Sharp Shooters won the Kentucky Youth Hunter Education Challenge — the official state championship — May 23-24 at Lake Cumberland’s 4-H Camp. Henry’s team members, who are sponsored by the Henry County 4-H, put their outdoor skills to the test against the best in the state at the annual challenge, and came away with their first state championship.
“When we started out three years ago, we had just four on the team,” Sharp Shooters’ coach Dennis Campbell said. “Now, we’re up to eight. Really, it took us three years to get to the level we’re at.”
At the state competition, the scores from each member of four-person teams were combined for overall team scores. Participants rotated through four shooting challenges — which included shotguns, muzzleloaders, rifles and archery — while also earning scores in orienteering, wildlife identification, a knowledge test and an event known as “safety trail.” Participants could score up to 300 points in each of the eight events, with an overall maximum score of 2,400 points.
Also, the competition was divided into two age divisions, juniors (age 14 and under) and seniors (age 15-18). Henry competed among the juniors in the team competition, while they had one person in the seniors’ division.
“The beauty to me is the hunter is challenged and has to know how to do all things well,” Campbell said. “They have to be well rounded and have a great deal of intelligence to make it through all this.”
The Henry Sharp Shooters started practicing in February, when they had some form of training each week to prepare for the intense two-day competitions.
Three weeks before a competition — the team also took first and second at the Hunter Education Challenge in April — the squad would work on something every day to train more competition-specific for the upcoming event. Between the two competitions Henry went to, every member of the squad won at least one event, showing the team’s depth.
At the Kentucky Challenge, the Sharp Shooters, led by Connor Toole, finished first and third in the juniors’ division with two four-person squads. Toole was Henry’s top finisher in the muzzleloader, safety trail and archery, and ended with an overall individual first place of 1,628 points. Other Henry shooters were Jacob Yount (1,558), Jordan Campbell (1,584), James Pollard (1,490), Andrew Pollard (1,270), Derek Jeffries (1,260), Jonathan Chadwell (1,258) and Todd Adams (1,170). In the seniors’ division, Dylan Shuck finished with 1,096 points.
Toole, Campbell and James Pollard were on that first Sharp Shooters’ team three years ago, while Toole, Chadwell and Adams will all move up to the seniors’ division next year. As always, the Sharp Shooters are looking for new members to fill its team.
“I’ve seen us progress a lot over the years, and we’re looking for new members to join this team,” Campbell said. “We do our program through 4-H, but it’s not limited to 4-H teams. There’s teams from Boy Scouts and FFA (among other organizations) that get together and compete. It’s just a matter of getting a group together and starting.”
This year’s national championships — National Rifle Association’s annual International Youth Hunter Education Challenge — will be held later this summer in Mansfield, Pa. Henry has already qualified for the event, and could be a strong contender for the title, but needs to raise around $8,000 to make the trip.
“These kids are competing on a level where they’re able to win the national championship,” Campbell said, based on scores from last year’s national competition and this year’s state competition. “They’re competing at that level right now. They just have to get there.”
For more information about the Henry County Sharp Shooters, or to make needed donations for the national championship trip, call the Henry County Extension Office at (502)845-2811.
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