Story and photos by Amy G. Partain
COLORADO SPRINGS. When Kaden Westfall’s family left Colorado Springs on July 13 to drive to Ohio for the 2018 Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) and Scholastic Action Shooting Program (SASP) National Championships, he was hoping that he and his fellow St. Mary’s High School teammates would have a good experience at their first nationals. What he wasn’t expecting was for anyone on the team to come home with medals. When the team headed home a few days later, two of the St. Mary’s squads were second in the nation and Westfall was a national champion.
Westfall, a junior at St. Mary’s High School, earned the title of national champion in handicap division of the trap competition after hitting 186 of 200 targets from the 25-yard line. Two of St. Mary’s squads took second place in the junior varsity divisions of both handicap and doubles competitions. The handicap squad was made up of senior Cole Ciccarelli and juniors Mark Rysavy, Matt Raskob, Brian Sorensen, and Westfall — and missed a tie for first place by only one target. Teammates competing on the doubles squad were Ciccarelli, Rysavy, Raskob, junior Andrew Sorensen, and Westfall.
“I had no expectations for nationals,” Westfall said. “We were happy to be there, and while I didn’t think we would win anything, I didn’t share those thoughts with my teammates because anything is possible. We prayed and asked for help to shoot our best, and God was on our side.”
Trap shooting includes different disciplines. Singles are shot 16 yards behind the trap house, with a squad of five shooters each shooting five targets before rotating to the next shooting station until the squad has rotated through all five stations for a total of 25 possible hits. Handicap is similar to singles but is designed so that shooters of different abilities could compete against each other fairly. In handicap the shooters stand farther away, between 17 and 27 yards, from the trap house, depending on their handicap score. Doubles are shot from 16 yard line but two targets are thrown at the same time, one to the left and one to the right. The shooter takes shots, one at each target and is scored based on the number hit. Normally a round is five pairs shot from each of the five shooting positions for a total of 50 targets per round.
At nationals, the St. Mary’s competitive shooting team competed in all of the trap disciplines, skeet and sporting clays. According to Westfall’s mom, Kim, more than 27 states had teams competing at nationals, resulting in more than 2,700 competitors, 7,000 entries in events, and one million targets shot.
While his hunting background may have helped him as he started competitive shooting, Westfall said target shooting is totally different from hunting. Whether it is the product of being the coach’s son or his excelling in the sport, Westfall has become a leader on the competition shooting team. Once he is finished practicing, he goes around helping and encouraging his teammates.
“While there is an individual part to competitive shooting, it is a team sport not just an individual sport,” Westfall said. “Everyone can get better and each of us on the team can give input on how others can work to get better.”
Westfall’s teammates credit him with helping them individually and the team overall improve. Cassidy Sorensen, a junior, said that when the team was just starting last fall, Westfall picked up everything quickly and was able to help his teammates better understand what they needed to do.
“Kaden has helped me improve my shooting performances in many ways,” she said. “Whenever I have a question he almost always has an answer for me, whether it is about how to clean the gun or where my hold points should be. He always has a little tidbit of information that helps me, like how to adjust to the wind blowing from behind or coming right at me.”
Teammate Cole Ciccarelli, a senior, has found participating in competitive shooting very rewarding and also credits Westfall with helping him improve his shooting. Ciccarelli was a member of both St. Mary’s squads who placed second at nationals.
“Kaden helps me not give up when I’ve had a bad day,” Ciccarelli said. “And he helps coach the kids who are struggling.”
Westfall played baseball his freshman year at St. Mary’s, but he hadn’t grown up playing traditional high school sports and struggled to find his place in the high school community. The competitive shooting team has provided that place, not just for Westfall, but for other St. Mary’s students who aren’t drawn to or physically cannot participate in the other sports or activities offered by St. Mary’s.
“Competitive shooting gives a lot of students a chance to excel in a sport when they may not be able to compete in other sports,” Westfall said. “With competitive shooting, everyone gets equal playing time and an equal chance to win.”
Westfall has seen other benefits from competitive shooting as well, including increased confidence, a building up of his faith, and better focus on academics. He said that focusing to hit targets has helped him to literally focus better on his school work.
Registration is now open for the 2018-2019 St. Mary’s competitive shooting team. Westfall said he knows that sometimes it is hard for students to try something new, but hopes that interested students will give it a try. When July 2019 rolls around, Westfall’s expectations for the team and for nationals are going to be higher.
“I expect us to do as well at nationals next year, if not better. We accomplished a lot in our first year, but we can only go up from here,” he said.
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School)