He's aiming high: RF soph headed to Jr. Olympic Development Camp
Luke Naughton would make his grandpa proud.
The River Falls High School sophomore is one of just 24 athletes from across the country to be invited to the Scholastic Clay Target Program's USA Junior Olympic Development Camp for shooting sports in Colorado Springs May 23-28.
And it's all because he liked to tag along and watch his grandpa shoot when he was just a toddler.
"He shot his entire life," Naughton said about his grandfather, Steve Thompson. "I was always super close to him, and since I could walk I was always out at the gun club watching him. I always wanted to get into it and he finally introduced me to it and I started right around when I was about 10."
Naughton said his grandfather showed him all the nuances of the sport. He gave him a gun and bought him shells and a vest.
"I knew from the beginning that I loved it," he said.
After his grandfather died in 2013, Naughton's great uncles, Tom and Steve Achterhof, took him under their wings.
"They really helped me get to where I am today," Naughton said.
Where he is is one of just two dozen high school athletes in the nation good enough to earn an invitation to the Junior Olympic Development Camp. The camp is designed to teach the clay target disciplines of international (bunker) trap, international doubles trap and international skeet, and will take place in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center and USA Shooting's International Shotgun Range at Fort Carson, Colo., training grounds for USA's Olympic shooting athletes.
Naughton has applied to the camp the past two years, and after finally getting accepted on his third try is looking forward to the opportunity.
"I hope to meet a lot of great people," he said. "I hope to definitely learn and improve and get better opportunities in life as I move forward. Just getting to know the people and learning the small stuff that I can't do just by myself, that I need some real professional help with. I hope it opens up a pathway for many good opportunities."
Naughton said there's just something about the sport that he loves.
"The outdoor aspect is something I've always loved and still love," he said. "Guns are a big part of my life and shooting is now a huge part. There's something about it that I don't know how to describe really. It never gets old. And it teaches me responsibility. You always have to be safe and aware of what you're doing."
He said he also loves the fact it's a sport anybody can do.
"It gives people opportunities," he said. "You don't have to be super tall or super muscular. There's not as many physical aspects as other sports, which is something that allows a lot of people to find something they love."
Naughton started shooting with the River Falls school team when he was in seventh grade and has seen the popularity of the sport grow every year since. According to the USA High School Clay Target League, nationwide, nearly 22,000 students representing over 800 school-approved teams are participating in the sport in 2018. In Wisconsin alone, 1,941 students from 78 high school teams, including Hudson, New Richmond, River Falls, Baldwin-Woodville, Elmwood, Ellsworth, Prescott, Osceola and Amery are participating in the Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League's 2018 spring trap shooting season.
With that growth comes more opportunities, such as college scholarships. Another aim of this week's Junior Olympic Development Camp is to assist USA Shooting in its pursuit of identifying SCTP Athletes who have the potential to become USA Shooting Team members and, ultimately, Olympic champions.
"I don't know how that would go, but hopefully in the long run scholarships are a big thing," Naughton said. "And possibly the Junior Olympic team, and possible Olympic team. I mean, if I could make a living out of it I'll try my absolute hardest to do it. I just love it so much I'd do anything to do it for a living."
And he's ready to give it his best shot.