Over the past 25 years, The American Legion Department of New York’s Junior Shooting Sports Program tournament has grown from 21 youth air rifle competitors to nearly 130. The two-day American Legion tournament is held at Post 787 in Cicero, N.Y., in February, and 21 air rifle teams are expected to compete for the 2016-2017 program year.
“The Junior Shooting Sports Program is one of the best kept secrets in The American legion; we need to talk to everyone about it,” said Lawrence Behling, Department of New York’s JSSP Committee chairman to attendees of the Legion’s second annual JSSP Conference in Indianapolis on Saturday.
Behling, along with Department of North Carolina JSSP Committee Chairman Harry Flynn, shared best practices on how to start up a Shooting Sports program at the post level.
Locate program space. For posts that don’t have the required space (33-feet from target to edge of the firing line) to host an air rifle program, speak with community members who do. Several schools in New York have allowed Legion Shooting Sports programs to utilize their space for training.
Identify leadership. The program needs Legion volunteers and a certified shooting club leader to teach the basics of gun safety and marksmanship. A certification can be obtained through the National Rifle Association, Civilian Marksmanship Program or USA Shooting.
Raise funds. Support the post program through fundraisers such as dinners, apply for available grants, or ask local businesses for support.
Obtain equipment. The equipment needed includes traps, safety glasses, hearing protection, kneeling roles, shooting mats, spotting scopes, pellets, slings and air rifles.
Recruit shooters. Ask post members’ sons, daughters or grandchildren; advertise in schools and newspapers; contact local gun clubs; and reach out to youth programs such as Boy and Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs. “You can be successful in your recruiting efforts if you explain that air rifle safety is the foundation of our program, and that shooting activities complement many other youth activities,” Flynn said.
Practice. Decide the day and time that works best for the post, air rifle competitors and parents. “Many programs practice one day a week, but if you can increase by one more day your program grows and your competiveness grows,” Behling said.
Promote the program. Attend American Legion county and district meetings to educate members about JSSP, and have business cards available to hand out when talking about the program. Within two years of starting a Shooting Sports program, Post 942 in Webster, N.Y., produced an American Legion national champion – Andre Gross won the sporter category in the Legion’s 2014 Junior 3-Position Air Rifle National Tournament in Colorado Springs, Colo. “That shows where your program can really go,” Behling said.
Flynn reminded conference attendees that for Legion posts unable to host a Shooting Sports program, they can sponsor an existing club.
“The benefits of sponsoring an existing Shooting Sports program are tremendous – the instructor is trained, the program already has the required equipment and facilities, and the program has the participants,” he said.
The American Legion’s JSSP 2016-2017 postal match begins in November. For more information, visit www.legion.org/shooting.