While physical attributes like strength, speed and agility are sought after by coaches in most school sports, Marcus High School Clay Target team coach Devin Barge looks for something a little different—stewardship.
Barge coaches a team that has won or placed in every tournament so far this season, and he said more than hand-eye coordination or even self-discipline; how his athletes comport themselves is of paramount importance.
“First and foremost, because safety is the number one concern, we require them to be good stewards,” Barge said. “And it’s not just because it’s important to be safe, but because the optics of the sport aren’t understood by everyone. It’s a shooting sport, and if you see someone being a jerk, the last thing you want to do is correlate those two things. So first and foremost it’s important to be a good citizen and exercise safety.”
Barge said one of the great things about clay shooting is that it provides an opportunity for athletes from other sports to put their skills to use.
“At a 6A school like ours, you have athletes that cannot find a spot on a starting lineup in another sport, just because it is so competitive,” Barge said. “With shooting, they can transition over if they have been an athlete in the past, and things like hand-eye coordination, discipline in practice and those types of qualities really come in handy and can translate to a very successful shooting career.”
Marcus has certainly had its share of those, as team members Coleman Barge, Brett Pray, Payton Seay, Austin Lantz and Grant Holdorf are going on to shoot at the college level on scholarships.
Holdorf, 18, said that when he was in the eighth grade, he had an outdoor education class where a fellow classmate mentioned the shooting team to him and he decided to join up.
Two years later, something incredible happened.
“In my sophomore year, we went to the national tournament,” Holdorf said. “It was me and my squad for sporting clays. We were all shooting well and having a good time, but we hadn’t realized that all of our scores combined had put us in first place for overall score. When we looked at the overall scoring, it was the best feeling ever.”
Brett Pray, 17, is headed to Lindenwood University on scholarship and said he plans to use his time to hone his craft in the sport he loves, while also getting a college education.
“My plan is to get a business degree, but also get better at shooting there,” Pray said. “I’d eventually like to compete in the junior Olympics and then hopefully join the Olympic team one day.”
Lindenwood is a perennial powerhouse in the sport of shooting, having won 15 consecutive national championships between 2004 and 2018.
Before Holdorf, Pray and the others head off to college, however, they will be participating in an event to help defray the costs associated with their trip to nationals later this year.
Registration for the 3rd Annual Sporting Clay Tournament is now open, and Barge said the event is not only an important fundraiser, but also an opportunity for people interested in the sport of clay shooting.
“It’s a great way to get out and meet the athletes and learn about the sport,” Hodge said. “It’s a way for us to offset the costs associated with participating in the nationals tournament for our athletes.”
There are several sponsorship opportunities for the event, which will be held beginning at 8 a.m. on April 15 at Northlake Clay Target Sports located at 13055 Cleveland Gibbs Road in Northlake.
The cost to participate in the event is $125 per shooter and $500 for 4-person teams, which will include 100 sporting clays and lunch, with awards for top teams and individuals as well as prize raffles.
Visit facebook.com/MarcusClayTargetTeam for more information on the fundraising event.
Such sanctioning bodies as USA YESS (Youth Education and Shooting Sports) and the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) sponsor the tournaments in which the shooting teams compete, and following a banner 2022 season, the Marcus program experienced a near 100-percent growth in the sport, increasing from 32 athletes to 60.
“We actually had to cut it off just due to resources,” Barge said. “We try to keep it a 4-1 or 5-1 ratio of coach to kids, and we couldn’t reasonably provide enough practice time to any more students.”
Team scores in the sport are determined by a program’s top five scores and there are four divisions: varsity, junior varsity, intermediate (middle school) and novice (first year of middle school).
Shooting is a no-cut sport and is co-ed, with roughly a dozen of the Marcus shooters being female.
“We’ve had a great deal of success with many wins or placings in tournaments,” Barge said. “One thing that a lot of people don’t know is that we actually have middle schoolers on the team as well. We have 6th through 12th grade, and even had 5th graders, who are younger siblings of our athletes, that want to join up.”
Barge, whose own children Taylor and Coleman have competed for the Marcus program, has been coaching in some capacity since his teenage years.
He has volunteered with the Boy Scouts as a range safety officer and shotgun and rifle instructor for Troop 262, which meets at Downing Middle School in Flower Mound. That was where he met some of the guys involved with the Marcus shooting team and decided to be a part of the program himself.
“It’s just something I’ve always done, because I have had great coaches in my life that have inspired me,” Barge said. “I hope I can do the same.”