Shooters from all over the United States have gathered in Sparta for the 10th, and perhaps final, Grand American competition at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex.
Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this year announced plans to shutter the 1,600-acre facility. On Tuesday, one day before the Amateur Trapshooting Association’s Grand American began, Rauner announced that nine employees of the shooting complex will be laid off Sept. 30.
The possible closure of the facility has been a hot topic of conversation among shooters. Reactions range from anger, to frustration, to disbelief to acceptance.
When the issue was posed to Richard Garmene, an Indiana shooter, he rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"Any time we have a shooting facility close, it’s always a disappointment," he said. "This is such a great place to shoot. To think we’re going to lose it has everyone concerned."
The ATA moved the Grand American to Sparta from Vandalia, Ohio, in 2006. The State of Illinois and the ATA recently extended the contract for The Grand American through 2026.
"I’m kind of confused as to why they can’t keep the facility running," Garmene said. "They can always open it up to other competitions."
"It’s a big mistake to shut it down," said Maury Goble, of Albion. "Of course, it’s all political."
The closure is particularly disappointing for Goble, who traveled to Vandalia for the Grand American before it moved to Sparta. And, if the Grand American moves, he and his friends will follow — although they wouldn’t necessarily be thrilled about it.
"If they want to lose money that bad, I guess we’ll go out of state," Goble said. "Dedicated shooters will go if it’s going to be in Alaska.
"This is the best facility a shooter could ask for. It has everything."
Larry Chance of Little Rock, Arkansas, attended the event with his son. Like Goble, he said he’d follow the Grand American wherever it moves.
"I like it here," he said. "I camp here. I’m sure another state will figure out how to get this business.
"As a shooter, you have to go where the Grand is. It’s the Super Bowl of trap shooting."
By the same token, Chance looked at the bigger picture for Southern Illinois.
"I think it’s more than the profit and loss," he said. "I think it’s the impact on this community. If they’re not making money they need to work harder at getting more business here.
"You hate to see the government spend this much money and then not figure out how to make it work."
Peter Cohen, of Florida, offered a dissenting opinion. He said if the facility is losing money, it should be closed.
"I’d be glad if they shut the place down and moved it some place better," he said. "It’s very impersonal here. It’s so big."
The Grand American began Wednesday and continues through Aug. 15. About 4,500 shooters participated last year. ATA officials anticipate roughly the same size of crowds this year.