HORACE, N.D. (Valley News Live) - "It's just kind of a way to get away. You just come out here – you don't have to worry about anything else other than just shooting at a little target in the sky," says Cooper Sahli, who competes with West Fargo High School's Target Team.
Cooper is a graduating senior this year, but while he was in high school - he was a three sport athlete. He says being a part of the school's target team gave him a break from his other activities.
"Football is very brutal. You get beaten up after every game. But this is just a little peck on the shoulder, it's fine. Doesn't really hurt," Cooper says.
And he isn't the only student who's benefited from being on the team.
“It offers an alternative sport for those athletes that want to do something different than our traditional sports," says Joe Courneya, the State Director for North Dakota High School Clay Target League.
"This sport is inclusive in the fact that male, female, handicapped – you name it – they can get out there and they can perform," says Mark Sahli, the West Fargo Packers Target Teams coach. "Anyone can shoot, and it's nice that way."
Cooper's father and the team's coach, Mark Sahli, says the sport also earns high marks from parents due to how safe it is.
"We stress safety, fun, and then marksmanship," Sahli says. He says it's because of these attributes that the sport's popularity has been growing.
"We've grown each year a little bit," says Sahli.
"We were just doing it as a club team, and then after two or three years in the club, high school teams here and there started getting into it. And now it's crazy – there are a bunch of schools and it's a huge state tournament every year," Cooper adds.
Just three years ago, North Dakota's state tournament broke records by having more than 250 student athletes compete. Now, more than 1,300 student athletes from over 50 high school teams are coming to the area to compete. Organizers also expect more than a thousand spectators.
Minnesota is seeing similar numbers - with 330 teams in the state.
Minnesota's Trap Shooting Championship is this weekend as well. Moorhead students, and others from the area, are traveling to Alexandria to compete in what's being called the 'World's largest shooting sport event.' Minnesota's State Championship is June 21st in Prior Lake.
“Now we’ve got a number of colleges actually jumping on and offering collegiate trap shooting teams. We’ll have a couple colleges here on site this weekend that’ll be recruiting our athletes to come to college and shoot on a trap team – so that’s kind of exciting,” Courneya says.
Sahli says the sport's popularity is encouraging, because it means more students will have more opportunities to find the same outlet and acceptance his son did.
"The kids that haven't played other sports – this might be the only thing that they've competed in or sport they played. And you see it and it brings them into that team concept. They're part of something," he says. "Maybe they never played football or maybe they didn't play basketball or one of those sports. But they did this and you see that. They've got their plaques on the wall."