SOLON– It’s unusual for Solon to be in the role of the underdog.
But that sums up the year for the Solon High School Trapshooting Team.
In just two short years, the team has evolved from piggybacking with Iowa City West to emerging as a force to be reckoned with, all the while limited by a lack of available facilities and the hectic schedules of its team members.
After a slow start at the beginning of the season, the Solon shooters improved every week. And when the State competition in Cedar Falls was held June 3, Solon was the fifth best team in Iowa.
Solon’s trapshooting team won three top team awards on Saturday, June 4, at the Iowa High School State Trapshooting Championship battling among 125 schools represented by 56 teams statewide and over 1,324 registered shooters. In additon, Skyler Rath won two individual state awards.
The fact that Solon competed so well belies the team’s humble origins. Trapshooting, a sport where participants must shoot a clay disc (also known as a clay pigeon) launched at high velocity from a nearby machine, is an organized sport in the state of Iowa. But up until two years ago, Solon High School had no formal team.
In 2009, Coach Scott Rath’s son Skyler, who open-enrolled to Solon from the Iowa City School District before high school, shot as a team of one for Solon as he was not allowed to shoot as a member of West High’s team. In 2010, after receiving school board approval to form the team, Solon created a team of 10 for its first trapshooting squad. However, the team lacked a certified coach at the time, so it shot as a separate unit with the West High squad once again.
Coach Rath credits West High’s team with supporting Solon during this transitional phase, allowing Solon to practice alongside them at an Amana facility along with the Clear Creek Amana team.
“Coaches Phil Bourjaily and David Giese and their entire Iowa City West team really came through on Solon’s behalf,” Rath said.
This is significant because the top five scores of the year are used competitively, and the more opportunities there are to shoot, the better the chances for a high score. The higher Solon scored before the State competition, the more likely the Spartans would end up on top after a good shooting day.
Fittingly, this year the Solon team is nipping at the heels of none other than West High School in the state standings.
Or, as Solon Trapshooting Coach Scott Rath puts it, Solon was getting ready to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the state.
“The big dogs are looking over their shoulders and seeing nothing but black and orange,” Rath said. “Each week (Solon’s shooters) keep topping the previous week. The other coaches are really taking notice.”
It is also the first time Solon was competing as a full team representing Solon High School. Currently, Solon has a squad just under 20 members strong.
The ability to compete as a team is important for the Spartan shooters, according to junior shooter Andy Nigg.
“You’re representing your own school and not somebody else,” Nigg said. “It’s good that you’re out there making your own name for yourself.”
The team is made up of a variety of different shooters with different skill levels, some who had shot before, others who just had hunting experience and others who had never shot a gun before in their life.
This was the case for the team’s only female member, sophomore Riley Mullins. Trapshooting is a rare sport in which both men and women can compete together on the same team, although women compete against women in individual scoring.
Mullins said it was hard to pick up at first, but she appreciates the chance to compete with the boys.
“It’s not a physical thing really, it’s more of a skill-based sport,” Mullins said. “It’s just really different from anything I’ve ever done before and I like that.”
Rath said the team got off to a slow start this year because the number of other activities in which Solon students participate did not jibe well with the closest practice facilities being 40 minutes away in Cedar Rapids. So he purchased a portable clay pigeon machine for the team, and the Spartans practiced on a farm, behind the home of teammate Tyler Erenberger. Rath said the generosity of the Erenbergers is a perfect example of how the team has survived with the support of the parents.
“We couldn’t do this without them,” he said.
The portable machine also helps keeps costs down, although Rath said Solon’s shooters have to invest quite a bit each week to keep shooting. He hopes to bring the expense down next year with bulk ammo buys and some fundraising efforts.
Tyler Erenberger said the cost, while prohibitive to some, is just a part of the sport. “Any sport gets expensive if you really get into it,” Erenberger said.
Junior Matt Moore said he hopes the team’s success this year will lead to more people coming out next year.
“It’s a really fun sport if you haven’t tried it,” Moore said. “Once you hit that first pigeon, you just want to keep trying until you hit more.”
One teammate anxious to get back to shooting this season was senior Brett Smith. After battling Leukemia since January, Smith said he is waiting to get the doctor’s okay to get out and shoot.
“I just have to get my platelets up,” Smith said.
Smith, one of the team’s best shooters last year, said the ability to compete after missing much of his last basketball season since his diagnosis is very important to him.
“It would mean a lot,” Smith said. “I just want to be a part of a team. It’s fun to be out here with these guys.”
Coach Rath said the coach of Mount Vernon’s team, Tom Wilkinson, invited Smith to shoot with the Mustangs at a dual meet so Smith can perform his first shoot under relaxed circumstances.
“Tom’s always putting the kids first, regardless of who they shoot for, and I hope it works out,” Rath said.
On Saturday, May 14, the Solon Spartans Trapshooting Team finally pulled ahead of Iowa City West with yet another team-all-time-high score of 227 and a second place finish in the second half of the very large (15 schools) double-header hosted by Mt. Vernon and Xavier high schools at Otter Creek. Solon placed fourth in the first half with a 210 score. The combined efforts were enough to claim sole possession of fifth place in the state standings.
On Thursday, May 19, Solon participated in a friendly head-to-head reunion dual meet at former-fellow-teammates Iowa City West’s home range at the Amana Sportsman’s Club. It was the first time they had been invited there this season. Solon has no facility to host competitions.
Brett Smith was back in action for the Spartans for his first competition this season and followed an initial score of 15 from 16 yards with an inspired score of 22 from 19 yards using a borrowed gun. Fellow senior and founding team member Tyler Erenberger led that Solon Orange Squad with a score of 43.
Brett must have warmed up his borrowed gun pretty well, because the gun’s owner, teammate Skyler Rath, then used it to lead the Solon Black Squad to dual-meet winning score of 221 by shooting a rare and perfect 50-straight. With West’s Bryce Haines’ own score of 48, that put the two North Liberty best friends in a tie for first place in the state. Solon’s Cody Fritz added his first official perfect 25 of 25 from 19 yards for a total score of 46 out of 50.
And Solon’s drive to State wasn’t over yet.
Mt. Vernon trapshooting team coach Tom Wilkinson had invited Brett Smith to compete in one of his own team’s duals again May 20 in Central City to help Brett get the necessary number of official scores needed to compete at state, even though that requirement has been officially waived specifically for Brett by both the State Board and the National Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) governing bodies.
The Solon team was back in action again on Saturday, May 21, in a tri-meet with Cedar Rapids’ Xavier and Kennedy high schools at the Cedar Rapids Izaac Walton League. Solon’s regular season wrapped up the following Saturday with a double-header against Maquoketa at the North Linn Fish and Game Club in Central City.
The Iowa high school trapshooting season culminated six days later with the SCTP State Championship on Friday, June 3, followed by the Iowa State High School Championship on Saturday, June 4, at the Cedar Falls Gun Club.
– With contributions by Scott Rath
Solon Spartan Trapshooting Team awards included:
Fifth place team trophy for regular season scoring
This is awarded for the total of the four best scores shot by the team’s five top scorers during the regular season. It is the best regular season All-State team score. A theoretical “perfect score” would be 1,000. Solon’s was 919, the fifth best in the state.
This is where having a home facility is a distinct advantage. The more you can shoot, the more chances you have to shoot better scores. Solon is at a huge disadvantage, not only in being unable to host events, but also in having to travel on weekends to any scoring events with room for the team to compete. It factors directly into the overall All-State Championship, too, in which Solon also placed.
Solon was able to host one dual meet this season thanks to the generosity of the North Linn Fish and Game Club in Central City, which loaned Solon its facility for the event. They are one of many private shooting sports clubs across the state who strongly support high school shooting sports. Unfortunately, Coach Scott Rath said, there just aren’t any near Solon at this time.
Iowa City West placed sixth in this same category (the state awards six places) and considering they are only a third-year team, that was also a great achievement. They do, however, have a small (and overcrowded) home range at the Amana Sportsmen’s Club which they share with the Clear Creek Amana High School team, and where they can host small competitions occasionally when it is not in use by the private Amana club. Mt. Vernon is another nearby team with an established and growing program that could use a closer shooting range, Rath said.
Fifth place squad trophy for the Iowa High School State Championship
This award was for the team’s top squad score in the actual Iowa High School State Championship on June 4. A perfect score is 500; Solon scored 460. The best first place score in the championship was 470, only 10 broken targets more out of 500 possible, Rath noted.
Fifth place All-State Squad trophy: overall combined regular season and state championship scores
This is the most prestigious team award for the overall All-State Team Championship. It is the sum total of the regular season All-State score of 919/1000 (fifth place) and the scores shot by those same five top-scoring team members during the State Championship, 458/500 (also fifth place). Solon’s total All-State score was 1377 out of 1500 targets. That’s 92 percent team shooting for the regular season and state championship combined.
After the regular portion of the state championship was over, Solon’s All-State squad was called upon by the state to break a tie between Solon and Maquoketa in a very exciting head-to-head shoot-off. That squad consisted of Skyler Rath, Calbert Hanselman, Cody Fritz, Easton Ressler and Wyatt Rath. Senior Tyler Erenberger was shooting so red-hot on both days that he replaced freshman Ressler on the top squad entered in the championship, but it was Easton who was required by the state to shoot in the tie-breaking shoot-off at the end.
Maquoketa, a perennial powerhouse with multiple championships and years of experience, fielded their own top squad for the shoot-off and shot a very good 113 of 125. But Solon’s Black Squad beat them with an outstanding score of 117 out of 125, led by Skyler’s perfect 25-straight in that shoot-off. Solon truly earned that fifth place overall All-State trophy, the best prize of all, in dramatic fashion against an admirable team.
Solon individual high school state championship awards:
Skyler Rath: Second Place statewide in regular season scoring with 197 out of 200 possible. His former teammate and lifelong friend, Bryce Haines of Iowa City West and also from North Liberty, earned the first place medal with a score of 198 of 200.
Skyler Rath: First place All-State (overall statewide). Named “Captain of the 2011 All-State Team”
This is the most prestigious individual award in Iowa High School Trapshooting and was for a combination of his regular season score of 197/200 and his State Championship score of 97/100. Skyler shot 98 percent for the regular season and State Championship combined, averaging 49 of 50 every time he shot competitively.