'Clays against Cancer' gives skeet and trap shooters chance to help

Deborah Gibson grew up on a dairy farm near Allentown, Pa., and learned at a young age how to hunt for deer and other animals.

Skeet and trap shooting — the art of shooting clay pigeons out of the air — were not among her family's outdoor pursuits.

Even when Gibson moved to Maryland years ago and met her husband, Steve, her father taught him how to shoot with a hunting rifle. Their interest in shooting eventually extended to pistols, and they now participate in local competitions.

But it wasn't until last year's "Shoot For The Cure," an event that helped raise money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, that the Gibsons thought about using a shotgun to bring down a clay pigeon.

With the help of Colleen Wasicko, a former member of the U.S. national skeet shooting team who loaned her shotgun and gave instruction on how to fire it, Gibson was able to shoot "three or four" clay pigeons.

"I was very surprised," Gibson, a radiology technician, said recently. "You're not at a benchrest or anything. You're standing there and holding a shotgun and following along as the clay pigeon flies through the air. You really have to be steady and have to have good eyes."

Gibson, a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with "early stage" breast cancer six years ago, will return for this year's event, renamed "Clays against Cancer," and held Oct. 6-7 at Loch Raven Skeet and Trap Center.

Gibson and her husband are expected to be among the 175 participants who will try to raise more than the nearly $10,000 the event generated last year. Wasicko, a former member of the world record-setting U.S. team, will also be back with her husband, Michael, and their children to teach others how to shoot.

"I would hope that people would come back out and take it up as a hobby," Colleen Wasicko said Friday.

That's how Wasicko started 25 years ago at a skeet range in New Jersey. She went out with a co-worker one day and hit 17 of the 25 targets.

"It was just [an] impromptu thing, [my co-worker] didn't like it and I did," said Wasicko, who worked as a national credit manager for a yacht paint company.

Wasicko, whose family didn't have anything to do with guns while she was growing up in Glastonbury, Conn., went out and bought a shotgun the next day.

A late starter at age 27, Wasicko eventually made the women's U.S. skeet shooting team, where she set a world record in 1995 along with Kim Rhode, who would become the first Olympian to win five medals in five consecutive Olympic Games, and Connie Smotek. Wasicko was the U.S. champion in 1996.

Though Wasicko said skeet shooting has become more popular over the years, she would like to see the U.S. skeet shooting organization adopt rules used in international competition that require a higher level of proficiency. Wasicko said a few colleges now offer scholarships to skeet shooters.

"It's kind of a pretty good thing," she said.

The money was raised last year at Loch Raven through those who participated in the event, as well from those who sponsored the shooters. Half of the entry fees go into the donation pool and include lunch and a raffle ticket.

Event organizer Jason Wennett, a member of the club who has been an avid skeet and trap shooter for the past seven years, said he hopes to make this year's event "a little more festive."

Wennett said the event was renamed in order to raise money for a variety of breast cancer research fundraising organizations and eventually will help raise money toward research for other types of cancer. Winnett said he thought skeet and trap shooting would be a great way to "embody fighting breast cancer in terms of blowing it up."

"Last year we had a lot of people who had never held a gun before," Wennett said. "I think it was the curiosity of skeet shooting with the idea of fundraising. They came out and tried it without feeling intimidated. … The nature of the event definitely overpowers the décor. We're trying to make everybody comfortable."

Ron Davis, who has been a member at Loch Raven for nearly 30 years and is now a nationally sanctioned skeet shooting instructor, said he started in the sport as a way to train for hunting upland birds — geese, quail and ducks.

"I'm not longer interesting in killing things," Davis said Friday. "The challenge of hitting clay targets, it's always out there."

For Wasicko, shooting upland birds "followed" her introduction to skeet shooting.

Davis said skeet shooting "is a different game" than trap shooting or other sports or activities that require the use of guns.

In American skeet shooting, the clays are released on a left-to-right arc and, according to Davis, "it's all about the swing" of the gun as the shooter follows the target. In American trap shooting, the clays are released on an outward projectory at a variety of distances, from as close as 16 yards and at an average of about 40 yards.

In international skeet and trap shooting, the targets are released on a more unpredictable basis, according to Wasicko.

The Loch Raven club was a natural spot for the fundraising events since it has been a "hotbed" for skeet shooting, a sport that started in Connecticut in the early part of the 20th century, since the late 1950s.

Davis said aside from raising money for cancer research, he hopes next weekend's event will generate interest in the sport itself. The club hosts a program to teach youth about skeet and trap shooting one night a month as well as hosting a hunter safety course.

According to Davis, several members of the club are also in the National Skeet Shooting Association Hall of Fame.

"If people are interested, we can get them involved in the Maryland Skeet Shooting Organization or the national organization," Davis said.


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