JACKSONVILLE – After skipping a year because of the sudden arrival of the coronavirus last spring, the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program regionals and state championships are back in 2021. The first weekend of regional competition for junior high and senior high shooters is Friday and Saturday, April 30-May 1, at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Jacksonville Shooting Sports Complex.
Regionals for four quadrants of the state will be held over four consecutive weekends, and the program’s tournament culminates June 4-5 with state championships in junior and senior divisions. The senior division will have $16,250 in scholarship money available to go to the top three teams and the individual Champion of Champions shooter.
Spectators are allowed to attend, but will be required to wear a mask on the premises of the shooting range. Competitors also need to be masked everywhere except when shooting, according to Jimmy Self, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s AYSSP coordinator.
Self says 4,810 shooters are registered to compete in the two divisions. “We’re down on numbers this year,” he said. “The COVID stuff has just hurt us a little bit, but we’re hoping that after this year it all gets over with and we’re back to having our usual numbers, if not more.”
Besides COVID-19 affecting the teams in terms of participants, circumstances this year have limited the amount of trap-shooting ammunition available around the state. But everyone competing has gotten in five practices leading up to regional competition, Self said, and there will be no shortage of ammunition at the complex during the tournament.
The East Region, which features such regular contenders as Jonesboro Westside, Corning and Gosnell, is first on tap for opening weekend. Junior high/middle school age shooters compete on Friday, while the seniors compete Saturday. On both days, registration begins at 8 a.m. and the trap-shooting starts at 9 a.m. Teams are designated a certain flight, or time, in which to shoot. Juniors shoot at 25 clay targets; seniors have 50 targets.
In light of COVID-19 precautions and social distancing, after completing their shooting period the teams must depart the complex. Unlike previous years, there will be no post-event presentation of trophies to the top three regional finishers, to avoid having a large group gather around the stage.
“We will do a virtual trophy presentation,” Self said. Real-time scoring will be available through the AYSSP website and through the AYSSP’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Self said 60 trophies and 120 medals will be distributed among competitors over the tournament, as well as “tons of shells and stuff donated to us. A lot of vendors donated gun cases and other things for prizes for us to give out to the kids. Mack’s Prairie Wings and Fort Thompson and others have been good to us to put up stuff to give out.”
Also, unlike previous years, there will be no vendors on-site, nor will anyone outside of AYSSP staff or coaches be allowed inside the main building at the complex. Competitors and their families and supporters will need to bring their own food and drink, Self said.
The same rules will apply throughout the regionals and the state championships. Following this weekend, the other regionals and dates are: North, May 7-8; West, May 14-15; and South, May 21-22. After a weekend off for the Memorial Day holiday, the top qualifying teams from each regional will gather June 4-5 for the 64-team bracket, single-elimination tournament to determine state champions in the two divisions. Also, shooters who have perfect scores in their respective divisions during regionals will advance to the Champion of Champions shootoff at the conclusion of tournament play.
The eventual senior Champion of Champions shooter, the last competitor standing in a shoot-until-you-miss event, will win a $1,250 scholarship. Also $7,500 will go to the winning senior team, $5,000 will go to the runner-up and $2,500 goes to third place.
The final round of the state championship and third-place match, as well as the Champion of Champions shootoff to follow, will be carried June 5 on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s YouTube channel, with Trey Reid of the AGFC’s Communications Division handling the play-by-play.
“We’re looking at things differently from the norm this year because of COVID,” Self said. “We’re just excited to have the regionals back this year after missing last year, and we’re excited to host them. We’re excited to see the kids get out and shoot and get into the outdoors. We want to get things back to rolling as they were.”
The shooting complex was the site April 10 for the annual AGFF Shoot-off, where senior shooters from Nashville and Westside dominated. The event drew 286 competitors to the fundraiser for AYSSP, Self said.