Rows of travel trailers, multi-family cooking camps, friendships to last a lifetime, and family bonds that aren’t created by blood… that is the Texas 4-H Shooting Sports State Games.
“We try to take the focus off of the gun and put the focus on the kids. We are a youth development program and it is not about the gun, it’s about the kids,” Texas 4-H Shooting Sports Program Specialist, Larry Perez said. “The gun is just a vehicle to teach our kids life lessons.”
The Texas 4-H Youth Development Program of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service offers unique opportunities to youth through a variety of project areas. The Shooting Sports project is one of the largest project areas in the program, reaching thousands of youth each year.
“Number one, just like just about anything else in 4-H, it teaches responsibility,” Perez said. “…they have equipment, it teaches them that they have to take care of that. With shooting sports, there obviously can be some inherent dangers. We teach them to make sure that their equipment is in safe working order.”
State Games occurs every July featuring the Hunting, Muzzle Loading, Pistol and Rifle week first in Manor, Texas, and the Archery and Shotgun event the following week at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio, Texas.
“If you come to state games and have a chance to walk around and watch and soak it in for a couple of hours, you will notice that almost every one of these kids knows the other kids and they can be from as far apart as Hidalgo county, all the way to Potter county,” Perez said. “They go to matches and see each other and then they go to state games and spend 5 days together and it’s just incredible.”
State Games not only features hundreds of youth each summer sharing that statewide bond, but also volunteers like Winfield Davenport, Head Range Officer for the Field event in 2021, who give up their vacation days year after year for one reason.
“I keep coming back because of these kids. I’ve watched a lot of them grow up over the years and I have seen a lot of the things that they have started to accomplish, the friendships they’ve built through 4-H,” Davenport said. “All of the positives that have come from it, I just want to keep being a part of that.”
There are more than 70 volunteers who not only contribute to the sport in their local counties during the year, but who make 39 matches possible each July.
“There’s only myself and a student worker in the office and if we had to do this on our own, we might be able to put on one or two matches,” Perez said. “Our volunteers are the lifeblood of this program; we could not do it without them.”
Those volunteers not only make the events happen safely, but also help culminate a truly unique and welcoming atmosphere at the event, which helped draw senior participant, Julia Davis from Wichita County, in from the moment she unloaded her rifle.
“Everybody is a family,” Davis said. “If you need something, you’ll see everybody’s always there to help you.”
Davis also wants to extend her sincere gratitude to the volunteers who trade their own time for her favorite two weeks each summer. While family and fun is inherent, the competition, or rather the “growth measurement” as Perez likes to call it, is fierce.
“What I try to instill in this, despite the competition part of it, that’s a huge draw, but this is the culmination of the 4-H project year,” Perez said. “That growth measurement, that’s what we want, to be able to measure their growth from the beginning of the 4-H year to the end of the 4-H year.”
With participant numbers continuously increasing and competitor skills consistently reaching, quite literally, the Olympic standard, the need for volunteers is also growing.
“We’re getting older and the volunteer base is getting older and we need some new blood to pass this stuff down to,” Perez said. “You have to be a registered adult leader on 4HOnline and be a certified coach and then we’d be happy to put you in a volunteer position here.”
To begin the journey of developing youth in the 4-H shooting sports project, the first stop is contacting the local County Extension Office and becoming a certified coach by attending one of the trainings held throughout the year across the state. Join 4-H today as a certified volunteer and learn on a personal level the meaning of “it’s all for the kids.”