State Champs also crowned in 4-H shotgun project
Grand Island, Nebraska — The 4-H Shooting Sports program aims to teach youth marksmanship, safe use of firearms, principles of hunting and archery, and more, and four South Carolinians hit their targets by being selected to represent the state at the 2023 National 4-H Shooting Sports championship.
The four-member team included Kaeleigh Seigler, Landon Burr, Ann Weathers Blankenship and Carter Lewis, and the team finished in 11th place overall, 7th in sporting clays and 12th in skeet. Other highlights included Burr placing 9th in sporting clays and Blankenship placing 17th in skeet and 13th overall at the event in June.
“To be considered for selection, youth had to fill out an application that showed their involvement in the community and leadership, as well as shooting scores,” said Rick Willey, South Carolina 4-H Shooting Sports coordinator and Extension 4-H natural resource specialist. “It is an extreme honor to be chosen for the team. Each year, four high-school age students are chosen and can only attend this event once during their career.”
Forty-two states attended this national competition making it the largest in the competition’s history. These states brought a total of 718 athletes who competed in numerous different events: hunting skills, compound archery, recurve archery, shotgun, muzzleloading, air rifle, small bore rifle, air pistol, and small-bore pistol.
“I am grateful for the overall experience that attending 4-H nationals has provided me with,” said Seigler, from Aiken, South Carolina. “I enjoyed being able to meet and shoot with great people from all over the country. I am especially blessed to have been able to form great friendships with the other shooters from South Carolina — the best squad I have ever been a part of. “
Seigler, who began shooting in ninth grade, graduated this year from Aiken Scholars Academy and plans to attend Clemson University this fall and major in microbiology with a biomedicine concentration. She plans to continue shooting on the Clemson Shotgun team while in college.
Burr, from Darlington, South Carolina, graduated from Darlington High School, started shooting sports in the ninth grade and plans to attend Clemson University in the fall to major in Agricultural Mechanization and Business. He intends to continue his shooting career with the Clemson Shotgun Team.
“My favorite part was I got to proudly represent South Carolina and build strong relationships with my team as well as meet other people and make memories that will last a lifetime,” Burr said.
Blankenship, from Sumter, South Carolina, is a rising high school senior at Wilson Hall who has been shooting since 6th grade. After graduating, she is leaning towards attending College of Charleston and majoring in marketing with a minor in marine biology. She is unsure of whether she wants to shoot in college, but knows she wants to continue shooting with National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA).
“My favorite part about 4-H nationals was the bond I formed with my South Carolina team,” she said. “They’ve become like siblings to me, and I’m thankful for my unique relationship with each of them.”
Lewis is from Liberty, South Carolina, and graduated from Liberty High School. He started shooting in the 10th grade. He plans to attend Tri-County Tech in the fall and major in mechatronics and obtain a license in electricity.
“A lifetime of memories and friendships were made. I shot pool about as well as I shot clays this week — not that well!” he joked.
The 4-H Shooting Sports program is offered to youth across the state from a network of certified instructors in disciplines of archery, air rifle, and shotgun. Youth learn marksmanship, the safe and responsible use of firearms, the principles of hunting and archery, and much more. The activities of the program and the support of caring adult leaders provide young people with opportunities to develop life skills, self-worth and conservation ethics.
STATE SHOTGUN PROJECT
In addition to the national competition, this year’s State Champions in the shotgun project were also crowned. Overall champions were determined by a cumulative score of the three disciplines: skeet, trap and sporting clays.
“South Carolina 4-H is extremely proud of these youth and their accomplishments,” Willey said. “They worked very hard for these achievements.”
Rookie (5th Grade) — Laila Koon
Koon is a fifth grader at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School and lives in Newberry, South Carolina. She said she found her passion for the sport by watching my older sister, Lila Koon, when she was shooting.
“This is my first year shooting for Heathwood Hall. I really enjoy shooting, and I want to see the sport grow. My goal for the upcoming season is to improve my scores,” she said.
Intermediate Entry (6th-8th Grade) — Kolton Sharp
Sharp discovered his passion for shooting when he was 10 years old at his grandfather’s farm in Iowa. Upon moving to Seneca, South Carolina, at the start of his fifth-grade year, he joined the Oconee Crushers, where his father is now the head coach.
While he favored trap initially, Kolton now enjoys shooting trap, skeet and sporting clays. After a successful season in the Intermediate Entry Level division while in 6th grade, he will start off his third year of shooting for the Oconee Crushers aiming to beat his PR, shooting multiple perfect rounds in trap and skeet and helping to contribute to his team’s success. Sharp has his sights set on shooting at the collegiate level in the future, and with the support of his family has always been encouraged to dream big.
Intermediate Advanced (6th-8th Grade) — TJ Knight
Knight, 13, is a seventh grader from Winnsboro, South Carolina who began shooting 4-H in 2020-21 and has enjoyed all disciplines offered. He began shooting sporting clays at age 8 with a private club and continued the sport as his passion. He currently shoots for Richard Winn Academy, which is led by head coaches John Lewis and Scott Clyburn.
Knight takes lessons from a private coach and mentor, Mike Luongo of Rocky Creek Sporting Clays. He did not attend the 2023 National Championships but was picked for the All-State Team for SC 4-H Skeet.
Junior Varsity (9th-12th Grade) — Gage Yarborough
Gage Yarborough is a rising sophomore at Chester Senior High School who has enjoyed hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor activities since he was a young boy. He joined the Lewisville High School Sporting Clay team in 2020 where he fell in love with shotgun sports. He enjoys shooting all three disciplines — skeet, trap and sporting clays — and won several JV events in 2023 and is looking forward to the upcoming season.
Senior Varsity (9th-12th Grade) — Jed Dodgens
Dodgens is from Starr, South Carolina, and a rising 11th grader at Crescent High School where he shoots with the Crescent Elite Shooters. He started shooting in the seventh grade under the guidance of coach Lester Brock. Jed has won individual and team state and national titles.
Ladies Intermediate (6th-8th Grade) — Lila Koon
From Newberry, South Carolina, Lila Koon is a seventh grader at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. Koon shot a shotgun for the first time in the second grade at Camp Woodie. Once she began shooting, she fell in love with the sport.
This is Koon’s second year shooting for Heathwood Hall’s shotgun team. What makes the sport special to her is that she gets to shoot alongside one of her younger sisters, Laila Koon. This past year Lila shot her first 25 straight in trap. Her goals for the upcoming season are to shoot a 25 straight in skeet and to continue improving her scores in each discipline.
Ladies Senior (9th-12 Grade) — Ann Weathers Blankenship
Blankenship, also known as “Lulu,” is from Sumter, South Carolina, and has been shooting since the sixth grade.
“I got involved in shooting when my dad told a kid in my grade to tell me, ‘I’m glad you are not signing up for the shotgun team because girls can’t shoot anyways,’” she said. “My dad knows if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll try my best to prove you wrong — and I signed up that day.”
Blankenship shoots for her school team, Wilson Hall, and a club team, Featherhorn Young Guns.
“I’m heavily involved in my community, but my favorite organization I’m a part of is Capernaum, which is a Christian Young Life for people born with disabilities,” she said. “I’ve been a junior leader for two years. I love to sing, spend time outside, and play my guitar. I also love to hang out with my family. We do everything together.”
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