Earlier this summer, the Warren County Claybusters Senior Division team won a state championship in the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP).
After a 12-hour drive to the SCTP National Championships in Sparta, Ill., on July 20 and 21, the Claybusters took home second place out of 89 teams, busting 967 targets out of 1,000 - just one target shy of the first place medal.
Corry's Dalton Sipes, Eisenhower's Ethan Black and Jon Shelton, Youngsville's Zach Bush, and Warren's Michael McDunn made up the Claybusters team and provided the 967 score.
Photo submitted to the Times Observer
The Warren County Claybusters pose after shooting a 967x1000 at the SCTP National Championships to earn second place out of a field of 89 Senior Division teams. Team members, from left, are Dalton Sipes, Ethan Black, Jon Shelton, Zach Bush, and Michael McDunn and, in back, Erica Boutelle and Carl Black (coach).
Sheffield's Erica Boutelle was the team's alternate shooter. While her score didn't count in the team's standing, her individual performance had her finishing 12th out of 73 ladies in the senior varsity division.
Friday's performance of 484 targets left the Claybusters in first place-but not by much. The next day proved how tough the national competition was when, after shooting 483, just one shy of Friday's mark, the Claybusters finished in second place by only one target.
Shelton shot a perfect 100 on the second day of the competition and placed fifth out of 472 shooters to lead the Claybusters to their second-place finish.
"It's a pretty good feeling knowing that I'm in the top of the nation," said Shelton.
This summer has been full of firsts for Shelton.
The beginning of the summer was his first trip to SCTP states, and he was on the team that got first.
It was also his first trip to nationals, and while he was there he shot his first straight 100.
"I surprised myself," he said.
Despite being surprised at his individual performance, Shelton was confident about the team's prospects going into the championships.
"I figured we could hold our own pretty well since we only missed eight targets at states. We didn't shoot that well at nationals, but we still didn't shoot too bad," said Shelton.
With two years of eligibility left to make the trip, getting second place isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"No one is graduating (high school) this year and we are slowly making a name for ourselves at nationals. This is just motivation and it gives us a goal to go back next year and be that team that wins nationals by one target," said Shelton.
For the Black family, the national championship is becoming a family event.
In 2008, the oldest son, Colton, was part of the SCTP J.V. national championship team.
Last year, Logan, another older brother, made the trip.
This year was Ethan's turn.
"It feels pretty good. It was a really fun experience," he said.
Going into the championships, the Claybusters had confidence, but events like the national championship often come down to the wire.
"It's usually really close like that. It could be a matter of one bird or sometimes a couple birds but it's usually really close. We thought that if we could hold it together we might be able to win Nationals too." said Ethan Black.
But a second place, especially finishing just one bird behind the winner, doesn't leave much reason to be upset.
"Anyone can have their day. We all had a lot of fun and we are really proud of what we did. We couldn't be happier," said Black.
The Claybusters' SCTP second place comes soon after three June state championships.
On June 9, in Elysburg, Pa., the Whiteflyer Claybusters took first in the Academics, Integrity and Marksmanship (AIM) Junior Gold Division, hitting 487 out of 500 targets.
The next day, the Whiteflyer's senior and junior varsity teams each won a SCTP state championship, shooting 492 and 459, respectively.