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Kernel trapshooting team sees strong growth in second year

Ben Laufman fires a shot during a Mitchell High School trapshooting team practice on Tuesday at the Mitchell Gun Club. (Eric Mayer / Republic) 1 / 2
Delana Henkel, right, gets ready to fire a shot as Brynn Palmer, left, looks on during a Mitchell High School trapshooting team practice on Tuesday at the Mitchell Gun Club. (Eric Mayer / Republic) 2 / 2

In its second season, the Mitchell High School trapshooting team is flourishing.

This year, 35 Kernels are participating in the third year of the South Dakota High School Clay Target League. In its inaugural season last year, Mitchell had 14 kids participate.

"The word got out," said Mitchell coach Jerry Opbroek, who is helping coach the team for the second season. "We've got them all the way from sixth-grade to seniors. Some have never handled a shotgun before while others are hunters. We got all ranges of ability."

Mitchell's growth in the sport is similar to the state as a whole. Six schools competed in the inaugural season, while last year 24 schools competed. The number of schools jumped to 36 this season. The 36 teams are put in five different conferences based on similar team number size. Mitchell competes in Conference 4, along with Platte-Geddes, Brandon Valley, Groton Area, Chamberlain, Aberdeen Central, Elk Point-Jefferson/Vermillion and Bowdle, which is for teams with 25 to 32 kids on the roster. Pierre, Yankton, Brookings, Harrisburg and Canton each compete in Conference 5 with more than 32 kids on the roster.

Opbroek said he's happy with the number of kids participating and added he hopes it continues to grow. He said he's had plenty of help from other volunteer coaches and added, by rule, there has to be a safety officer and coach at each trap station.

After three weeks of competition, Mitchell is in second place in the conference with 9,688.5 points. Platte-Geddes leads with 10,538 points. Last year, Mitchell won its conference.

The trapshooting season lasts five weeks with each shooter attempting 50 shots each league night, broken into two sessions of 25 shots, with five shots each coming from five different locations on an arc-shaped concrete pad. Each shooter receives a score out of 25, and the scores are kept for a season average heading into the state tournament.

Mitchell's Logan Heinzmann is the team's top shooter so far with an average of 23.17, which is tied for the best in the conference and tied for eighth best in the state. Kameron Brown is averaging 22.83, Jonah Schmidt is averaging 22.67, Alex Bergeson is averaging 22.17 and Daewood Gerlach averages 22.

Mitchell has four girls competing this year. Katelyn Uithoven and Delana Henkel lead the group with an average of 16.83, while Brynn Palmer is averaging 15.33.

"They are pretty competitive," Opbroek said about the girls on the team. "They'll be pretty good, just give them a little time."

Mitchell has two weeks of competition left before the state tournament, which will be held June 9 in Aberdeen. Opbroek said Mitchell will send 21 competitors to the state tournament.