Coach Rick Leach is thrilled his Ozaukee Scholastic pistol teams took first and second places in the national championship last month.
He’s amazed how fast the trap shooters picked up the skill of pistol shooting and excelled at it. Ozaukee started in spring, months after most teams began practicing.
But it’s how the team carries itself that has impressed Leach.
“Our club had been known because when we’re shooting in events they’ll stop and thank the volunteers,” Leach said. “I’m more proud of their behavior and how they act even more than the national title.”
A representative of the Glock pistol company even said he was happy to see Ozaukee win because the kids are “so classy.”
Case in point: a shooter from the state of Washington came without a team and asked to shoot with Ozaukee. Without hesitation, Grafton graduate Nick Skelton, Ozaukee’s top shooter, offered his own gun.
“The kid with the fastest gun in the nation let him shoot his gun. Something could have gone wrong,” Leach said. “His mom had tears in her eyes.”
Skelton led the senior division by taking first in centerfire, followed by his teammate, Andrew Holzer. They were among 500 pistol shooters and 2,000 trap shooters competing in Sparta, Ill., at the largest outdoor shooting complex in the country. Trap houses that send up clay targets stretch for three and a half miles.
The timed competition has four segments. Shooters must hit five steel targets at various distances in five rounds as fast as they can. Their top four times count.
The junior team (16 and younger) shooting .22s won the national title, knocking 188 seconds off of its fastest time, and the senior team shooting 9mms took second, shaving off 30 seconds.
“I have to admit I knew they could shoot well, but I didn’t expect to win with them,” Leach said.
“I knew our senior team would be really close. From what we saw on Internet, I knew our state time was one of fastest in the nation.”
No overall team title was given, but no two teams were close to placing higher than Ozaukee in the country.
“In my book, we are the national champs,” Leach said.
That national competition continued a wave of success for Ozaukee. At the state competition in June, the senior team took first place and junior team second.
At the Midwest Regional in March, the senior team won after only three practices at the Ozaukee Fish and Game Association. Leading up to nationals, the team added a second weekly practice at the Saukville Gun Club.
Only two of the team members had ever fired a handgun before joining the pistol team, and nobody owned a gun at the start of the season. Through the program, parents may purchase guns at a reduced price, even lower than the law-enforcement rate.
Team members hail from Grafton, Cedarburg, Port Washington and Ozaukee high schools.
“It’s really a great dynamic, especially because kids from different school districts are now friends and shooting with each other,” said Leach.
Unlike some varsity sports, egos don’t exist on this team. Older shooters will coach and work with the younger ones. Skelton, who is studying to become a law-enforcement officer, volunteered to come back and be an assistant coach.
Holzer, a Grafton senior who will take over as top shot on next year’s team, plans to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Leach, a patrol sergeant with the Cedarburg Police Department and owner of Wisconsin Learn to Carry LLC, runs a tight ship. Team members must keep their grades up to earn a letter and may not have attendance or behavior problems in school.
“You need to do the right things at home and in the classroom before you can participate,” he said. “These kids are pretty serious about it.”
Everyone must have graduated from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hunter safety course, and there is zero tolerance for alcohol, drugs or any kind of negligence with a weapon. Violators are not suspended for a part of the season like other sports; they are removed from the team.
“We can’t take that chance,” Leach said.
The team hasn’t practiced since the national competition, but another competition looms in early fall, and the team might just be itching to shoot.
“They’re pretty happy,” Leach said. “The big part of it is we have this freedom in our country to possess and shoot weapons. These kids are really the future of the shooting sport in our nation.”
Image Information: CELEBRATING THEIR NATIONAL Junior Centerfire championship were Ozaukee Scholastic Shooting Team members (from left) coach Rick Leach, shooters Nick Haas, Mike Burmesch, Kaela Leach, Cameron Scheel and Corey Buchholz, coach Drew Holzer, national program director Tammy Mowrey and Tom Yost Smith.