June 9, 2021
Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
JACKSONVILLE – The Westside Red squad from Jonesboro Westside High School returned the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program championship to the traditionally strong trap-shooting club in the northeast part of the state with a convincing win in last Saturday’s title match, outshooting rival and top-seed Harrisburg Team 2 by 10 clays at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation’s Jacksonville Shooting Sports Complex.
AYSSP is a program that is operated within the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Education Division that is geared to exposing more youth in grades 6-12 to the outdoors, and practicing care and safety when using shotguns, through competitive trap-shooting events. Those events include regional and state tournaments held annually in May and early June, though last year’s tourneys were postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. The AYSSP championship began in 2007.
Westside’s winning tally was 122 out of 125 possible clays (each of five senior team members shot at 25 targets in each match, for a possible 125 team points). Harrisburg, whose five-person squad missed just four total clays out of 250 during the East Regional on May 1, when teams qualified with 50 shots per individual in one day of shooting, appeared to run out of steam Saturday, as its 112 total clays in the final was seven less than its lowest previous score of the day. Each team in the final shot a grueling five matches in a 64-team single-elimination tournament bracket to reach the final round.
Westside’s team was comprised of Mason Burris, Jax Goad, Lucas Primm, Maddox Tarver and Cameron Cox. Tarver, Primm and Burris had perfect 25s in the final match, Goad missed one clay and Cox hit 23 of 25 in the impressive title round display.
Konnor Shelton of De Queen shot his way to becoming the 2021 AYSSP Champion of Champions at Saturday’s senior shootoff following the team competition, and he won $2,500 in college scholarship money in the process. The Dr. Doyne and Nancy Williams Endowment Fund provided the money for the first Champion of Champions scholarship.
The Williamses have set up a $100,000 endowment that will fund the scholarship for years to come.
Shelton faced off against 10 other senior division shooters, all of whom had hit all 50 clay targets during regional competition, and all were dealing with heavy rain that moved into the area Saturday afternoon. Each shooter took a turn with one shot at a clay target from one spot at the five-stand, continuing to rotate until Shelton was the last shooter standing perfect in Saturday’s shootoff. Doyne Williams, a retired cardiac surgeon from Little Rock and a national shooting sports champion in his own right over the years, was on hand along with Chris Colclasure, AGFC deputy director, and Deke Whitbeck, director of the AGFF, to present a replica, large scholarship check to Shelton after the event.
Westside Red, one of four teams from the four quadrants of the state seeded eighth out of 16 seeds per region, was on championship form the start, never scoring less than 116 in a match (its first), and running off scores of 122, 123 and 121 in three of its four matches that led to the final versus Harrisburg. That included eliminating another No. 1 seed, North Region winner Highland, 122-113, in the second round. Yet, it still needed a “card-off” versus Cabot Panther Red, a 15th seed, in the semifinal round after both teams finished their 125 shots deadlocked at 121. The winner was determined by the best individual scorer among the two teams.
Harrisburg eliminated another pre-tourney favorite, the South Region winner Nashville Scrappers, 121-118. Nashville, the last senior AYSSP state champion in 2019 (COVID-19 canceled last year’s event) claimed third place by edging Cabot Panther Red 118-115 behind Wren Washburn’s perfect 25-for-25 shooting.
The top three teams each received scholarship money for their seniors headed to college: Westside Red received $7,500, Harrisburg took home $5,000 and Nashville received $2,500 in funds that come from the AGFC’s Conservation License Plate sales.
Westside qualified three teams for the 64-team senior bracket, though its top team, Westside White, runner-up to Harrisburg in the East regional and a No. 2 seed, went out in a first-round shocker. But the Red squad picked up the slack.
On Friday, Corning Team 1 eked past Bald Knob 108-107 in its sixth and final match of the day to win the AYSSP Junior State Championship. Junior teams were made up of shooters in grades 6-8.
Carter Ewing of the Nashville Scrappers was the Junior Champion of Champions winner.
Bald Knob’s lowest score in its previous five matches Friday had been 109, but it could not muster the extra couple of clays in the final against Corning to take the trophy. Bald Knob had slipped past the Des Arc Master Blasters 110-109 in the semifinals; Corning took care of Horatio Squad A 112-105 in the other semifinal matchup. Horatio in turn had upset second-seeded Harrisburg Squad 105-104 in a quarterfinal match to advance.
Both Corning and Bald Knob entered the junior tourney as top seeds and avoided stumbling along the way to a winner-take-all matchup. Corning, which hit 110 of 125 shots in its East Region qualifying victory on April 30, didn’t have a Friday match closer than six clays until the final. Brady Russon, with 24 of 25 shooting, and Seth Smith, who hit 23 of 25, led Corning past Bald Knob by the thinnest of margins. Ty Price, Kase Young and Wyatt Murray were the other members of the Corning team.