ALL EYES ON THE TARGET

By Robby Tucker rtuck98@gmail.com
Posted 7/19/21

Like so many others, Edgar County 4-H members felt the impact of COVID-19 last year.

In-person events like the annual shooting sports competitions at the 4-H Fairgrounds were canceled as a result …

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ALL EYES ON THE TARGET

Posted

Like so many others, Edgar County 4-H members felt the impact of COVID-19 last year.

In-person events like the annual shooting sports competitions at the 4-H Fairgrounds were canceled as a result of the virus. Archery, rifle and shotgun events have long been considered staples of Edgar County 4-H Fair festivities, but stay-at-home orders left many young marksmen and women with nowhere to go for competitions.

While local athletes were understandably upset, perhaps nobody was more concerned than Edgar County’s Shooting Sports Coordinator Chris Milam.

Shooting sports have always been an important part of life for Milam, whose love for knocking down targets first blossomed as a child. Milam’s father competed in a circuit of competitive pistol matches while Milam was growing up. Before long, the young Milam joined the fun, entering in his first competition at just 12 years old.

“I love shooting sports, but there didn’t used to be any youth or girls involved,” recalled Milam.

More often than not, Milam was the only youth present at his competitive outings. He revealed the age difference he faced as a young sharpshooter is a big reason he serves in his current role. Many youths who are interested in archery or firearms competitions might not have a local outlet for their passion outside of 4-H.

“These new opportunities (for kids) are amazing,” said Milam. “We want to build that opportunity for Edgar County kids.”

Milam’s passion for his work also stems from his desire for safety among younger generations. Despite recent controversies surrounding ranged weapons and their place in civilian life, Milam noted most people seem to overlook teaching safety.

“Safety with shooting is not being taught today. We teach it the right way,” he said.

Milam and his fellow instructors teach their pupils a four-pronged approach to handling weapons: Safety, awareness, weapon etiquette and proper equipment. These are all points of emphasis for participants in the Edgar County 4-H Shooting Sports experience. Whether handling bows, air rifles, .22-rifles, shotguns or otherwise, students quickly learn how to carry a weapon in a way that keeps others safe.

Sadly, 4-H shooting sports and the benefits they provide for local youth came to a halt in the spring of 2020. When COVID-19 derailed 2020’s 4-H competition, Milam’s passion pushed him to find a solution, despite numerous difficulties.

“It was challenging trying to return to normal,” Milam admitted. “We had to look at lots and lots of regulations.”

Fortunately, as cases decline and communities reopen, archers and sharpshooters from Paris and its surrounding communities finally returned to competition Saturday, June 10. Archery events included Junior Division events for younger participants, as well as indoor and outdoor events for the Senior Division, which allows athletes up to 18 years old to participate.

Milam’s passion for his craft was reflected in each of his 20 students — and especially in Senior Division Grand Champion Dylan Blair.

Blair, who will be a freshman in high school this fall, earned his second straight Grand Champion title over the weekend, but the success is not what keeps him invested.

“The excitement of competing year after year keeps me coming back. 4-H inspired me to keep shooting and to pursue this hobby,” Blair explained.

Fellow Grand Champion JR Brinkerhoff shared many of the same sentiments as his competitor.

Brinkerhoff, who was named the Reserve Grand Champion in archery before earning Grand Champion status in both the .22-rifle and shotgun events, loves the competition and appreciates the lessons he has learned in eight years of competing.

“It’s a good time, it’s always competitive. Whether you’re new or experienced it’s always competitive,” said Brinkerhoff. “It’s also taught me patience — to not be hard on myself.”

Each event was a triumphant success for everyone involved. Organizers enjoyed a long-awaited return to form, while competitors were happy to have another chance to show off their skills in a safe learning environment.

Anyone interested in 4-H shooting sports can contact Chris Milam at cmmilam@frontier.com or call him at 1 (217) 822-9841.

Archery events were hosted at the 4-H Fairgrounds, while air rifle and .22 rifle events were hosted at the Sportsman’s Club shortly after. After a short rain delay, shotgun events wrapped up on Monday evening.

In the Junior Archery Class, prize winners included Kelsey Reel (Bare Bow Junior Division Champion and Bare Bow Reserve Grand Champion) and Gentry Simpson (Sighted Bow Junior Division Champion).

Winners in the Senior Archery Class included Sammy Milam (Bare Bow Senior Division Champion and Bare Bow Grand Champion), JR Brinkerhoff (Reserve Grand Champion) and Dylan Blair (Sighted Bow Senior Division Champion and Overall Grand Champion).

In the air rifles class, Hudson Phipps was crowned the Junior Division Champion and Grand Champion Overall.

For the .22-rifle competition, Sarah Walls (Junior Division Champion), Sammy Milam (Reserve Grand Champion) and JR Brinkerhoff (Senior Division Champion and Overall Grand Champion) all earned trophies.

Finally, shotgun winners included Eyan Keys (Junior Division Champion), Durham Switzer (Reserve Grand Champion) and JR Brinkerhoff (Senior Division Champion and Overall Grand Champion).