Mackenzie Coyle

When I worked at another newspaper some two decades ago in the foothills of the Adirondacks, it was rare that I was able to cover the crowning of an athletic state champion — team or individual. Actually, there was just one. Missy Krempa won the state title in downhill skiing four years in a row. Coincidentally, she later served as an assistant coach for the William Smith College field hockey team. She has since moved on as a college head coach elsewhere.

Since I’ve been working at the Finger Lakes Times, however, a number of wonderful teams and individuals have reached the New York state sporting pinnacle.

Add Mackenzie Coyle, a senior at South Seneca High School, to that list.

Her talent is trap shooting, or the shooting of clay pigeons. Some might be unaware that several schools in the area have teams — I know of Dundee, Penn Yan, South Seneca, Newark and Midlakes, to name a few. It is considered a club sport rather than varsity.

That, however, does not diminish Mackenzie’s achievement.

In the New York State High School Clay Target League, there are close to 60 teams and 1,000 participants.

Mackenzie, 17, bested all of them in the recently completed fall season. League competition starts up again in the spring. Mackenzie practices year-round.

In this sport, unlike others, results are posted online, and the cumulative score at the end determines the winner. Mackenzie scored a remarkable average of 22 out of 25 hits during the five-week season, the highlight being a 25-for-25 effort at a competition in Phelps. A hit can include a small chip on the clay disc; simple dust castoff doesn’t count.

Mackenzie remembers being a freshman and scoring a zero out of 25. It was enough to cause her to cry about it back then.

In some ways, she was born to be a trap shooter. Her dad is the Trap Master at the Interlaken Sportsman Club. Both her mom and dad help coach the Falcons’ trap-shooting team, which has five girls and about a dozen boys participating.

Mackenzie has been hunting with her father, and been around him while he hunted, since she was 9. She reminded me that this past Saturday was a “national holiday” of sorts. It was opening day of regular season (gun hunting) for deer and black bears. Bow season started Oct. 1, and resumes when regular season concludes next month.

She has not made a decision on college, although she has narrowed her academic focus to wildlife management or biology.

Mackenzie is standing in front of the trophy cases at South Seneca. Athletic Director Heather Mott hopes to get another of the awards (she is holding) to add to the display.

Matt Barkee is the team’s head coach. The club has been in existence at the school for four years. He commented that Mackenzie’s success is due to four years of hard work at it.

When I mentioned to Mackenzie that I was not sure, as an inexperienced gun person, that I could ever hit even one clay pigeon, she revealed to me that it is all about not aiming but “pointing.” That, in a way, contradicts the headline on this piece, but “her pointing is true” doesn’t have quite the same flair.

Even though the Center for Injury Research & Policy says there have been no recorded injuries since the establishment of the High School Clay Target League in 2008, that hasn’t stopped a state lawmaker from New York City from authoring a bill that would end riflery, trap shooting and archery as sports in public schools. Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat who represents the 67th Assembly District in western Manhattan, introduced the bill. Thankfully, she has been unable to find a co-sponsor for it in the state Senate.

It should be noted that each student involved in the sport of trap shooting is required to pass a comprehensive course in firearm safety prior to participation.

While high-profile sports regularly receive front-page coverage when a state championship is captured, I am happy to provide it for Mackenzie too.

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