By KORINNE CANIGLIA
Special to The Gazette
Jim Maple and Doug Wellock have hit their marks in the countyâ€™s 4-H shooting sports program.
The volunteers with the Medina County Sharp Shooters 4-H club recently earned state awards for their leadership and dedication teaching youths the safe and responsible uses of firearms as well as life skills.
The 4-H youth development program is coordinated by the Ohio State University Extension, Medina County. It helps more than 1,400 youths reach their fullest potential through educational, hands-on projects and activities that promote learning, leadership and citizenship.
â€œI enjoy a child who is just learning, and getting him to be successful,â€ said Maple, who has volunteered for eight years and lives in Lodi. â€œWhen you have helped them get to their goals, that is awesome.â€
A 10-year volunteer, Wellock watched his son learn how to handle a firearm safely.
â€œBeing educated takes the curiosity out of the equation,â€ said Wellock of Spencer. â€œOnce you pull a trigger or release an arrow, you canâ€™t get it back. You have to know what is beyond your target and where people are and what to do to keep the situation safe.â€
Members of the Medina County Sharp Shooters 4-H Club Alexis Cook (left) and Bobby Campbell take shooting practice at Izaak Walton League. Doug Wellock (foreground) and 13 other volunteer instructors teach members several disciplines, including archery, hunting and wildlife, muzzle, rifle and shotgun. Wellock and Jim Maple recently earned state awards for their leadership and dedication teaching youths the safe and responsible uses of firearms. (Shirley Ware | Photo Editor)
Certified volunteers are trained to teach safety and sportsmanship in one or multiple disciplines, including archery, hunting and wildlife, muzzle loading, pistol, reloading, rifle and shotgun. Shooting sports also features a living history project that studies historical lifestyles and heritage crafts.
The countyâ€™s program has expanded to one of the top five largest in the state after starting more than 15 years ago. Fourteen certified instructors lead the 59-member group. In Ohio, 4-Hâ€™ers involved in shooting sports since 1992 have more than doubled to 4,500 members.
Exposure to firearm safety is critical to preventing accidents. About two-thirds of homes across the nation have firearms, according to the Ohio 4-H shooting sports Web site, www.ohio4hshootingsports.org. Shooting also is the second most popular international sport, following track and field.
â€œIf kids can learn the right way to handle a firearm when theyâ€™re young, theyâ€™ll be less likely to be injured if they ever come across it,â€ said Lisa Wittenauer, the county extension educator of 4-H youth development. She also is certified in archery. â€œThis is a way they can they can learn about firearms from well-trained individuals in a safe environment.â€
Wellock, who is certified in shotgun, pistol and reloading, first volunteered after enrolling his son in the club and later invited Maple to join. A shotgun accident at age 15 also urged Wellock to promote safety among young people.
â€œIf I can help one young person not go through what I did and be active in a sport they love and in a safe environment, then thatâ€™s a good thing,â€ said Wellock, who suffered severe injuries from the accident.
The leaders teach safety and handling to 18 4-Hâ€™ers enrolled in the shotgun discipline. Each member first studies rifle safety before advancing to other specialties.
The Sharp Shooters meet monthly to conduct business and weekly for shooting practice at the Izaak Walton League or South Cuyahoga Sportsmenâ€™s Association, both in Medina County.
Members signed up for shotgun learn about eye and ear protection, basic shooting fundamentals and equipment maintenance and cleaning. They also complete record books and can earn patches as they advance in the sport. Club dues help pay for ammunition and equipment.
The volunteers review lessons and techniques at each practice, followed by a demonstration. For instance, Maple recently discussed sportsmanship, while Wellock showed members how to keep eyes on targets for success.
â€œItâ€™s fun and cool, and when youâ€™re successful, itâ€™s really cool,â€ said Alexis Cook, 12, of Medina. â€œIâ€™ve learned how to get the sights lined up. I like competing, when youâ€™re shooting and scoring the points.â€
Stephen Schmidt, 15, of Medina, agreed: â€œItâ€™s fun to see the clay pigeon break and know that you were able to hit it.â€
The 4-H members also gain life skills, from self-discipline to leadership, while developing safe habits.
â€œThey learn responsibility and to respect the firearm and adults who teach them,â€ said parent Joy Hubbard of Hinckley Township. â€œThey go through safety even before they touch a firearm. Thatâ€™s top priority.â€
Evan Seidner, 15, of Cleveland, agreed: â€œYou learn a lot more than shooting. It teaches you good, moral traits.â€
The program also is adaptable for youths with special needs.
â€œMy son is in a wheelchair,â€ explained Traci Sampson of Litchfield Township. â€œHeâ€™s on a level playing field with everyone else. There are kids of different ages, and they can learn from each other.â€
A shooting sports project is made up of 70 percent knowledge and 30 percent ability, said Maple, who is trained in shotgun, advanced shotgun, pistol, reloading, muzzle loading and as the groupâ€™s head coordinator.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to be the best athlete or super strong to do shooting sports,â€ he said. â€œKnowledge is everything. You have the knowledge of how this works and the safety. Itâ€™s about using their heads.â€
Maple and Wellock also have taught at the state level, instructing youths at camp for a combined 14 years and players on the Ohio State University football team.
â€œWe make it safe, fun and educational and have had the same kids year after year,â€ Maple said. â€œThey respect what you do and keep coming back.
â€œI would rather shoot with these kids than some adults. Theyâ€™re safer and trained from the beginning.â€
Caniglia is the program assistant in communications of Ohio State University Extension, Medina County.