SPARTA — After months of planning, organizing and long hours of tireless dedication, what began last winter is about to come to fruition near the city of Sparta.
More than 10,000 shooters, family members, officials, workers, fans and trapshooting enthusiasts from around the world will converge on the World Shooting and Recreational Complex near Sparta during the next two weeks to participate in the AIM (Academics Integrity Marksmanship) Grand National Youth Trapshooting Championships (Aug. 3-6) and the Amateur Trapshooting Association's Grand American Championship (Aug. 7-17).
More than 3,300 shooters competed on the 3.5-mile-long trap line a year ago. Even more are expected this year.
Many of the top shooters from throughout the United States as well as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil will compete at one of the nation's top facilities.
For ATA Executive Director Lynn Gipson, the start of the competition is the end of a long journey.
"We actually start planning and talking to the sponsors in December and January and it just revs up a little higher every month after that,'' Gipson said. "We had our program ready and in the shooters' hands by June 15 this year.
"It's the biggest program we've ever had -- over 100 pages -- and it takes a long time to get all the information in there.''
Gipson is ready for the shooting to begin.
"We'll be ready when it gets here,'' Gipson said Monday. "Everything is in place and what we're down to now are the details.
"We've got our targets ready, we've got our labor force lined out and we've ordered good weather with moderate temperatures. We anticipate a great two weeks of competition.''
Spectators are welcome to attend and admission is free. There will be an assortment of vendors, food and beverages available, with many fun activities also planned during the next two weeks.
In his first year in charge, Gipson has helped attract the most sponsors ever. There are 30 sponsors on board for the Grand American Championship and 11 for the AIM Youth Championship.
"The people at the complex have been very resourceful and helpful," Gipson said, "and the state is continuing to improve the complex and get more usage out of it and that's a good sign as well.''
The competitions begins with the AIM Grand National Youth Trapshooting Championships Aug. 3-6. Four age group classes ranging from 11-and-under to the senior class (19-23) are conducted.
On Saturday, registration will be held and shooters will be allowed to practice during the day.
Competition begins Sunday, with the first AIM Doubles and AIM Handicap Championships. Gipson anticipates 500 to 600 youth shooters to compete.
"Saturday will be kind of a fun day. We'll have games, the kids can shoot a number of practice rounds if they choose, we'll have our ice cream social in the afternoon, then we'll have an Annie Oakley Shootout at night," Gipson said.
The competition then begins on Sunday.
"On Sunday, we'll have the first ever youth doubles and handicap championships. It's never been done before by the ATA or another youth shooting organization. It was suggested that we try it last year and so we are this year so that we are offering a completely rounded trapshooting program for the young shooters,''
Then on Monday and Tuesday, the AIM Singles Grand Championship will be conducted. More than 1,200 shooters from throughout the nation -- including several from the metro-east -- are expected to compete.
Competition in the Grand American Championship has five days of preliminaries beginning Aug. 7.
"What we do is basically round it up into three sections. The first is the AIM Championship, which runs four days, then we have five days of preliminaries, followed by championship week, which runs Aug. 12-17."
Grand American Classes are A through D, along with Class AAA and Class AA. Ages are 15 and under through the Senior Vet (70 and older).
"A few years ago, the Grand American wasn't that long. Instead of two weeks, it was maybe a week. But than they added a preliminary day and than another to where now we've got five of them,'' Gipson said. "Championship week starts on Monday and runs until Saturday.
"The opening ceremony will be on Aug. 12, because the shooters who are going to compete will be here by that Monday. We'll have closing ceremonies on Aug. 16.''
Championship week begins with the Winchester AA Class Singles Championship on Aug. 12 and concludes with the Grand American Handicap on Aug. 17.
"Like I said, it should be a great two weeks,'' Gipson said. "The responses we've gotten have been tremendous and it's a good sign for the sport."