Zachary, Alexis and Matthew Benson are siblings with similar talents and interests.
They all enjoy music. Zachary, a freshman at Northwestern High School, is in a band. He plays drums, bass and guitars.
“We all play instruments,” said Alexis, an eighth-grader at Northwestern Middle School. “I play piano and I’m kind of trying to learn some guitar from Zachary.”
And younger brother Matthew, a seventh-grader at NMS, is a drummer and percussionist.
While they’re a family that makes music together, they also like to shoot together.
The sibling trio makes up three of the 14 members on Northwestern’s Clay Target Trap team, a mix of Northwestern high school and middle school students which is currently in the midst of its inaugural season under the direction of Northwestern Middle School principal Brett Davis, who coaches the squad.
“It was actually weird how it happened,” said Zachary, 15. “I like to shoot. I’ve been shooting since I was in first grade. I’ve always liked to hunt and shoot trap. Last year I heard my cousin was on a trap team in Wisconsin and thought, … ‘Man, I wish we could get one going here.’ And then later that week Mr. Davis comes up and says they were starting a trap team. I didn’t ask him about it or anything.”
Just one of 15 high school teams in the state, the Northwestern trap team is part of the Indiana State High School Clay Target League. They started practicing in April at the Izaak Walton League, and are currently in the fourth week of their five-week competitive shooting season.
The team, which is comprised of eight high schoolers and seven middle schoolers ranging from ages 13-17, will wrap its season at the Indiana Gun Club in Fishers on June 1 with the state tournament.
“One of the things I’m just trying to emphasize with the kids is that this is kind of unique,” Davis said. “You’re kind of the inaugural team, not only at Northwestern but of all of Howard County. And I’ve already had people at a couple different schools contact me. It has drawn interest and I just kind of try to place them in the historical value to this.
“I don’t have an agenda. I told the school board I don’t have a gun agenda or anything here. I know what going skeet shooting or going clay target shooting led me to and I just want to introduce it to kids and hopefully they’ll get the same thing out of it that me and my son are getting out of it.”
Davis said that while the concept for the team was new, it all really started around 10 years ago, when he and his son Parker, 12 at the time, were invited by NMS teacher Mike Young to go clay target shooting.
“I did not grow up in a family of hunters,” Davis said. “The only gun we had in the family was one that sat above the fireplace as a decorative piece. From that, we went with them a couple more times. He helped me pick out a gun. From there we just shot and got into hunting and now we do a lot of hunting.”
Then, around a year ago, Northwestern Elementary principal Ron Owings mentioned to Davis that Oak Hill had a trap team. Owings gave Davis the name of the Oak Hill coach, Ben Huntington, who was also the director of the Indiana High School Target League.
From there, Davis reached out to then Oak Hill superintendent Ryan Snoddy, as well as reaching out to the Izaak Walton League, where he came in contact with Jack Baugher, who coaches the Young Guns, which is the Izaak Walton League’s version of clay target shooting for high schoolers.
“I have to tell you, without Jack Baugher and the support of Izaak Walton League this would never have happened because we wouldn’t have a place to shoot,” Davis said. “He invited me to come out one Monday night when his team was practicing. He said he would talk to the board and get approval for us to come out and practice with their team. I just think Izaak Walton has been super about this.”
The Northwestern School Board approved the team unanimously in January. Davis said that was followed by a couple open houses and registration.
“They had a couple questions, obviously,” Davis said. “The thing that this league talks about is safety, safety, safety. All of the students have had some shotgun experience. One of the things I kind of emphasize at the open house is I prefer students not be a beginner with a shotgun, that they have had some experience, probably hunting or just shooting. Most of them have had no trap or skeet, clay target experience. So this was brand new to most of them.”
While the league is officially open to students in grades 6-12, Davis said he stuck with grades 7-12 since sixth graders aren’t in the Northwestern middle school building.
At age 13, Matthew Benson is one of the youngest members on the team. He followed his brother and sister’s footsteps in becoming interested in shooting.
“They were shooting and I thought I might as well try it and I liked it,” Matthew said. “I like to hunt so with the trap team it’s just like you’re getting more practice and you’re pretty much guaranteed to hit something.”
The Indiana State High School Clay Target League is split into three divisions. Northwestern is joined by Grant County schools Mississinewa and Madison-Grant, along with William Henry Harrison, Central Noble and Tecumseh high schools in Conference 2.
The teams stick to their home fields rather than traveling to compete, with the scores loaded into an online system. Each shooter has two rounds of 25 targets for a total of 50 for a competition score.
As far as individual goals, the Bensons’ aim high.
“The goal is always to get 25, right?” Alexis joked.
Added Zachary: “My personal goal is to shoot over 20. I just shot two 19 out of 25's but I really want to hit more than 20."
And for Matthew?
“I’d like to get 15 both rounds. My best is 14."
Regardless of the goals, Davis said there is a common denominator with all the team members.
“They are getting better every week. That’s the neat thing. They’ve been doing a real good job. I’m proud of them.”
Davis, who is assisted by Mike Westbrook, said the parameters of the club go far beyond competition as he’s seen students build confidence in handling a gun properly and practicing safety in how they approach the field before competition.
It’s also teaching them life lessons.
“You definitely learn responsibility,” said Alexis, who is one of three girls on the team. “If you’re not responsible with guns people could get hurt. They stress safety a lot.”
Zachary said discipline was another life lesson that goes hand in hand with responsibility. But aside from those lessons, he said it’s also just an activity he can enjoy with friends.
“It’s fun to get together with people who like to shoot and stuff,” Zachary said. “It’s just fun to shoot with other people.”
Matthew was in agreement.
“If your friends are interested in hunting you get to spend more time with them and can compete with them a little bit. You can give them tips and they can give you tips.”
And as for family camaraderie?
“I’m not sure it makes us get along any better,” Zachary said with a laugh. “But we are interested in somewhat similar things.”