Shooting stars

By: Timothy Pontzer | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 15, 2017

WASHINGTON — Every Monday night at the North Macomb Sportsmen’s Club, a new Utica High extracurricular activity looks to leave — and hit — its mark.

Officially dubbed the Utica High Clay Target Club, each student utilizes a 12-, 16- or 20-gauge shotgun, firing rounds at 50 “pigeons” that are flung into the air downrange. In its inaugural season, the offering has seen continued improvement and positive reactions from the school community.

“It’s been a real joy bringing in some of these kids, especially those who have never fired a gun before, and see them improve week after week,” said the club’s coach, Mark Kosanke. “These kids come out here and are enjoying it, and I’ve had so many parents come up and thank me for putting this together. I just had an email last week that said, ‘My son has been looking for the right after-school activity but couldn’t fit in anywhere, but this has been perfect for him.’ That is very rewarding to hear.”

The group is made up of 22 boys and one girl, mostly consisting of Chieftains, but also drawing from Utica Ford II, Utica Eisenhower and Malow Junior High. The Monday night meets are held jointly with Romeo High, which is also embarking on its inaugural campaign.

Utica is one of 24 schools competing in the state under the Michigan High School Clay Target League, with 469 students participating statewide. Several of Kosanke’s top shooters rank in the top third.

“Compared to the rest of the league, we’re not the best by any means, but it is our first year with a lot of rookies, so I’m proud that we simply got it off the ground,” Kosanke said. “The biggest thing for me is this league preaches respect and how to properly utilize and understand a gun. The U.S. Clay Target League is going into its ninth year, and they have recorded firing over 30 million rounds nationwide in competition without a single incident or injury.”

Kosanke praised Utica Principal Tom Lietz and the school’s athletic director, Jim Vigus. He said there were many challenges and hurdles in setting everything up, including getting the necessary approval, but that pairing helped school administrators give the final green light with 10 days before the season started.

Terms like “shooting” or “gun” are specifically kept out of the club’s name, and the yearbook photo will not feature any firearms.

“I understand there is a bit of a negative perception with guns and schools being connected, but again, safety is our primary focus here,” Kosanke said. “Every kid either had to previously participate in a hunter safety course or pass a safety class that the league offers. Nobody has said anything negative to me; we’ve had nothing but positive reaction from everyone.”

“Most people don’t think anything bad about us; a lot of kids at school think it is a cool opportunity,” added junior captain Giovanni Pansera. “Most kids at school don’t even know about us yet — we’re still trying to find more to join. Overall, it has been a pretty positive reaction, and I’m really glad we can all come together at a nice place to shoot with your friends.”

Pansera uses a 12-gauge that was handed down to him from his grandfather. Some of his teammates also bring their own firearms, but many utilize shotguns that are loaned by the Sportsmen’s Club. Many of the club’s members also supervise and aid in coaching.

“Some of these guys helping out have over 50 years of experience,” Kosanke said. “It has been terrific. Many of these old-timers simply want to pass down a great hobby.”

Kosanke’s son, Nathan, helped to inspire the club’s creation. A sophomore at Utica, Nathan Kosanke has been shooting for the past four years and was interested in putting the club together. Along with Pansera, Nathan Kosanke serves as a captain. He holds the best mark in the club, averaging 40 hits a meet.

“I love just being able to compete against myself and try to come back better next week,” Nathan Kosanke said. “Not a lot of people know about this club yet, but we hope to add more next year and simply get bigger and better.”

The Chieftains will finish out their regular season, which consists of eight total weeks, before heading to Mason June 17 for the state final.