Ryan Kramer claims individual state championship to lead the first-year team to a sixth-place team finish

SETH GORDON - Branko Frketich takes a practice shot last week at the Newberg Rod and Gun Club while Newberg High School trap shooting head coach David Craig speaks with Troy Newman. The Tigers, who are in their first season of competition, recently placed sixth at the Oregon state tournament and will compete at the first-ever USA High School Clay Target League National Championship July 12-17 in Mason, Michigan.

After just making the deadline to register Newberg High School as team with the USA High School Clay Target League in March, nearly everything about the school's first trap shooting season has been a pleasant surprise for coach David Craig and the Tigers.

Co-captains Ryan Kramer and Oliver Myers recruited 21 other students to join, which was enough to place Newberg in the conference with the largest teams in the state.

After a season of steady improvement, the duo then led the team to a sixth-place finish at the Oregon State High School Clay Target League State Tournament June 23 in Hillsboro, with Kramer emerging as the individual state champion.

If that weren't enough, Newberg's top five shooters qualified, based on their individual season averages, to compete at the first-ever national Championship meet July 12-17 in Mason, Mich.

"I was very pleased with how the season went for a first season," Craig said. "We had a lot of kids that had never shot trap before. We had some kids who had never fired a gun before, so we really took these kids from square one and got to watch them improve all season long."SETH GORDON - Ryan Kramer, who recently won the Oregon State High School Clay Target League individual state title, practices trap shooting for the upcoming national championships last week at the Newberg Rod and Gun Club. Kramer hit 99 out of 100 targets, including his last 84 targets in a row, to claim the state title.

Kramer had been shooting with Craig, who serves as president of both the Newberg Rod and Gun Club and the Western Regional Independent Trap Shooting Association, for years and jumped at the prospect of forming a team.

Craig said the staff at the high school, especially athletic director Tim Burke and activities director Mark Brown, were especially supportive of their efforts, which culminated in an informational meeting that drew 29 students.

"It was a lot of word of mouth at school," Kramer said. "It was kind of a last-minute thing, so I went to all my friends asking, 'Do you want to shoot guns?' We had some posters around the school and that really helped, too, and I tried to push it on social media."

Local businesses donated nearly $4,000 to help offset the cost for students, who would meet up to twice a month at Newberg Rod and Gun Club for practice and weekly competitions during an eight-week season.

Craig said most on the team had their own shotguns or access to one through their family, but he and his four assistant coaches loaned some of theirs to the six students who didn't have any. He noted that two students even began saving up to purchase their own guns in anticipation of next year.

"That's pretty exciting for me when somebody is enjoying the sport so much that they want to spend their own hard-earned money on the tools to participate," Craig said.

Craig appeared before the Newberg School Board June 26 to receive approval for the team to travel to nationals and explained how trap shooting through the Clay Target League is among the fastest-growing high school sports in the country. The organization started in Minnesota nine years ago and is now in 23 states, just finishing its third in Oregon, where more than 400 kids participated on 27 different teams.

"The emphasis is on safety first, fun second and marksmanship third," Craig said. "The league has now sanctioned 35 million targets in the last nine years and there has not been one injury to any participant or spectator. So it's statistically, by far, the safest sport in all of high school."

Competitions during the regular season are done virtually, meaning individuals shoot at their home club or venue and submit their scores to the Clay Target League to be tabulated. Each participant shoots two rounds of 25 targets for each competition and compiles an average per-round for the season, with Kramer finishing second in conference and fourth in the state at 24.5.

Students can compete or practice on either Thursdays or Sundays, so several members of the team also participated in other spring sports like baseball and track. Newberg also featured three female shooters in its first year.

"That's one of the beauties of the trap-shooting program and one of the reasons it's growing so rapidly is we structure it so that it's not an exclusive sport," Craig said.

The regular season is eight weeks long, although the first three weeks are simply for practice before five official competitions. Each week, a team counts the top 80 percent of its shooters scores to be stacked up against those from its conference, so the number of shooters a team has plays a big role.

Hermiston and Molalla, which were two of the founding teams in Oregon three years ago, were both the largest and most-experienced teams and finished well ahead of the pack with 8,024 and 6,288.5 points, respectively. Newberg was in the mix to finish fourth, but ended up fifth with 4,194.5 points, just behind fourth-place Wilsonville (4,208) and not too far back of third-place Canby (4,518).

The state meet featured a different format, as the top five shooters from 23 teams competed together at the Hillsboro Trap and Skeet Club and shot 100 targets instead of 50. That set-up helped level the playing field for the Tigers, as Kramer, Myers, Branko Frketich, Troy Newman and Jordan Rice combined to finish sixth overall.

"We had a lot of good competition and we shot really good," Kramer said. "Sixth place for a first-year team, I think there are only a few of us who ever shot trap before, so we felt pretty accomplished after that."

Craig said that he was especially proud that Newberg finished as the top first-year program in the state, as three of the teams that finished ahead of the Tigers were in their third year, including state champion Hermiston.

Kramer finished in a tie for first place after hitting 99 of 100 targets, but won the tiebreaker for having made his last 84 shots compared to his opponent making his last 16 in a row.

"He's one of the top shooters," Craig said of Kramer. "He finished the season second in conference and fourth in the state on his season average, so he was right there all season long and was able to get over the hump and beat those kids at the state shoot."

The Tigers had actually qualified for national championship prior to the state meet, as invitations were sent out based on individual scoring averages. Newberg qualified as a team by having five shooters with an average of 20 or higher, while Kramer, Myers and Rice earned individual invites by having averages above 22. Newman and Frketich earned bids after ensuing rounds of bids were given to help fill out the 2,000-person tournament, though Frketich was unable to register in time and will only compete during the team portion of the competition.

Kramer, who has shot trap for four years, says he is still amazed at how quickly so many of his teammates, like Rice and Frketich, have progressed in their first year in the sport.

"To qualify for nationals after shooting for two or three months is a big deal," Kramer said. "It took me a long time to get to the level that Jordan and Branko are at right now. It's impressive."

Unlike at the state meet, the individual and team competitions will be held separately.

"There (is) going to be some really tough competition there," Craig said. "I would be really ecstatic if we qualified for the third day."

No matter how the team fares in Michigan, the season has already been an unbridled success in Craig's estimation.

"I have four assistant coaches and we spent a lot of one-on-one time with these kids early and it's really satisfying to see them take to it and be motivated to be better," he said. "We tried to make it fun, too, and they feed off each other. People start shooting better and better and it's kind of contagious."

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