Colorado Springs, CO -(Ammoland.com)- Mired in the hallowed world-class shooting range on location at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, is a hidden gem known as the National Training Center Junior Shooting Club program.
A place normally reserved for the elite and emerging elite athletes within USA Shooting’s development pipeline, this junior program has rightfully carved out its place with sterling performances as well as a volunteer-driven core second to none. Much more than just a junior program for USA Shooting, the club is no doubt considered one of the organization’s key cogs.
They literally are the glue that binds the USA Shooting Range and the National Training Center concept together. In early December, USA Shooting held its Winter Airgun Championships with record participation. Four days of intense 16-hour activity and in the midst of it all was the junior program leadership making sure it all ran smoothly; their presence felt both on and off the line.
On the line, the junior program flourished just as it had throughout 2014. Leading the charge was the remarkable arrival of 12-year-old Carson Saabye (Larkspur, Colorado) to the Women’s Pistol scene. Defying both age and experience, Saabye was on top of her game in earning a spot in two open finals, finishing fifth and sixth while finishing sixth overall. On the junior side, the middle school student was second overall picking up a medal of each color in the process. Having set a national record for her age, she was rewarded for her performance by earning a spot on the National Junior Olympic Squad.
Will Anti, Charles Platt and Will Shaner were also among the 17 junior club athletes that competed. Anti, whose father Mike is a four-time Olympian, 2004 Olympic silver medalist and the assistant rifle coach at the Air Force Academy since 2009, made two junior finals, winning gold on the third day while setting a national record in his age group. Anti, a senior at Discovery Canyon Campus, is considered a top prospect to watch given his lineage and early success. He’ll attend West Virginia University next year and compete on their renowned rifle team just as his father did in the early 80's.
Shaner, a ninth grader at Colorado Springs Early College, broke his own record again in his age group, something he had done previously at this year’s National Junior Olympic Championships, also hosted in Colorado Springs. Platt made all three junior finals while earning a bronze medal on the final day. Abby Votava, a senior at Palmer High School, is another local product having found great success within USA Shooting’s ranks in 2014 having earned a national Junior Olympic title in April. Kevyn Stinnett, a junior at the Air Force Academy and member of the rifle team, is also a homegrown product.
Getting them there rests on the shoulders of club leaders Bud Kucera and Jim Shaver along with Chuck Platt. But, their involvement in the sport doesn't stop there. All three men have dedicated their lives to the sport and to USA Shooting. Shaver and Charlie Reed were the visionaries for the program back when it all began, but neither one of them could envision the success it is presently seeing. Kucera, Shaver and Platt helped successfully resurrect USA Shooting’s range facilities in late 2013 by overseeing the installment of new electronic targets, lighting and technology that brought the facility up to world-class standards. They are present force at every match, of which there are many, helping to ensure safety of competitors, managing the competition and ensuring a smooth operation for all involved.
“They do a tremendous job running the club while putting in countless volunteer hours to support USA Shooting,” said Pete Carson, USA Shooting’s Director of National Events. “They are the most knowledgeable about our range, take on variety of leadership roles in support of our efforts and continually host some of the best club competitions around.”
Their involvement doesn't stop there. Numerous social groups and sponsor functions arranged by USA Shooting and the U.S. Olympic Committee migrate regularly through the facility hoping to try their hand at Olympic-style shooting. Helping to guide them are Shaver and Kucera and their junior program as they walk them through the fine art of the sport, while paying particular attention to safety and the educational enhancement that comes from teaching those often unwitting about the sport.
Like so many volunteers, giving back to something offers a reward far greater than the sacrifice. For Kucera and the others involved in the club, it’s about seeing the kids succeed.
“I have always enjoyed volunteering,” said Kucera. “I like having the opportunity to make a difference. I love working with the kids. I enjoy watching them grow and having the satisfaction that I may have had a positive influence on their future.”
The pay-off is similar for Shaver.
“I enjoy sharing the sport with others, particularly kids,” he said. “The program has, and does, take a great deal of time and energy, and I wouldn't do it without the payback in knowing I was involved in helping kids learn the sport, to progress and be successful, and move on in life with some great lessons learned.”
Platt jokes that they’d also do just about anything for a meal ticket. One of the few perks the threesome receives is getting to dine among the athletes at the world-class dining hall located at the Olympic Training Center. It’s a relatively small price to pay for the contribution each has made both to the young shooters they mentor and to the dedication they provide in maintaining one of the nation’s premier shooting ranges.
The club has been built with a family-like mentality, its success a direct reflection of the hard work and sacrifices each coach, young shooter and parent is willing to contribute. It’s for these reasons the club is almost a victim of its own success with an expanding waiting list for those interested in joining. Location, equipment, parental involvement, and affordable cost are all seen as contributing factors of the club’s success according to Kucera.
“You can’t downplay the impact of being here,” Shaver said. “I think it sets a pretty high standard for everyone, and we all push a little harder.”
Having all this plus being based at the Olympic Training Center, well that’s the cherry on top for all involved.
About USA Shooting
USA Shooting, a 501c3 non-profit corporation, was chartered by the United States Olympic Committee as the National Governing Body for the sport of shooting in April 1995. USA Shooting’s mission is to prepare American athletes to win Olympic medals, promote the shooting sports throughout the U.S. and govern the conduct of international shooting in the country. Check us out on the web at usashooting.org and on Twitter at twitter.com/USAShooting.