(Photo by Kali Parmley for the Trailblazer Adventure Program)

Trailblazer events connect youth to outdoor sports

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (USSAF) – a nonprofit organization that protects and defends America's wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits of hunting, fishing and trapping– held its first Trailblazer Adventure Program 12 years ago near Atlanta. The one-day event gave youth and their families an opportunity to experience outdoor sports such as archery, fishing and hunting. USSAF expected at least 400 youth to attend the event, but to their surprise, more than 2,000 showed up.

Since then, USSAF has held 736 Trailblazer Adventure Program events in 48 states, giving more than 1.7 million youth and their families an opportunity to experience the wonders of outdoor sports. By the end of 2013, the Trailblazer Adventure Program is expected to reach 230,000 youth and their families in 41 in states. However, USSAF wants to expand the program’s reach to 500,000 youth and their families a year, and they feel it’s possible through partnerships with youth-focused organizations like The American Legion.

"I’m hoping that in the future we will have a number of (American Legion) departments and posts added to our partnership column because that’s a big part of what we need to do," said Tony Celebrezze, relationship director for USSAF. "We rely on our numerous partnerships and corporate sponsorships to not only help fund our program, but to also provide volunteers and to host a (Trailblazer) event at a facility."

USSAF is a 2013 American Legion Child Welfare Foundation grant recipient of $43,000 for its Trailblazer Adventure Program. The grant helped USSAF create passports for youth to receive upon arrival to a Trailblazer event.

The passport features flag etiquette tips to assist youth with the flag-raising ceremony that is sometimes conducted before the start of a Trailblazer event. USSAF wants to make the flag-raising ceremony a mandatory part of every event and would like American Legion posts to help by conducting the ceremony. "We also want posts to talk about patriotism and flag etiquette with the kids," Celebrezze said.

The passport also features two three-question surveys. The first survey is filled out before the program begins, asking the participant if they have ever fished, shot a gun or trapped and if not, are they interested in learning how. The second survey is filled out at the end of the program, asking the participant if they would like to further their experience in one or more of the outdoor events that they participated in. If yes, USSAF helps the youth get connected with a sports club in their hometown that fits their interest.

During a Trailblazer Adventure Program, the outdoor activities are broken up into a "round robin situation," Celebrezze said. "Whether it’s fishing or shooting, all events are a very one-on-one situation so the kids are learning what these tools are and how to use them responsibly. We are able to do this because there are thousands of volunteers who give up eight to 10 hours of their day on a weekend to teach these kids great activities and how to do these activities in a responsible, safe fashion."

The Trailblazer Adventure Program has 80 field directors that manage an event to make sure "we have enough volunteers at different activity stations and to make sure things are done in a safe and friendly fashion," Celebrezze said.

For 2013, Cabela’s – a specialty retailer of hunting, fishing, camping, shooting and outdoor gear – became the title sponsor of the Trailblazer Adventure Program. A one-day Trailblazer event was held at all 41 of Cabela’s retail stores in early June, resulting in the participation of more than 18,000 youth and their families. Event activities included target shooting, archery, live fishing, casting, trapping demonstrations and conservation methods.

"Even if they (youth) never take up archery or fishing, we want them to at least try it so it’s not a fear to them," Celebrezze said

For more information on the Trailblazer Adventure Program, click here. To host an event, volunteer at one or conduct the flag-raising ceremony, email trailblazer@ussportsmen.org.