- This youth program exists in 80 countries and the United States, do your kids know about it?
- Program includes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education
- Kids build life skills…honesty, responsibility, decision-making, teamwork, self-discipline, self-confidence, problem solving
By Larry Whiteley
You will probably never hear this story being told on CNN, CBS or NBC national news. You probably won’t ever read a story about this in USA Today or other big national newspapers or magazines. We see, hear and read about shootings, protests and demonstrations. We hear or read about experts telling us that young people should never see or touch a firearm.
Why don’t they also tell the story about more than 400,000 young men and women in 47 states participating safely and successfully each year in the 4-H Shooting Sports Program led by 20,000 certified volunteer instructors? Do a Google search and you will find very little coverage about this except for home town newspapers talking about local kids being involved. When I searched I could find no national news stories about it. That’s a shame.
The story they should be telling is that this is much more than a bunch of kids, 8 to 18 years old, shooting rifles, shotguns, muzzle loading rifles, handguns, archery and learning about hunting. Boy’s and girl’s learn marksmanship, the safe and responsible use of firearms, the principles and ethics of hunting, and much more. These are not kids that spend most of their time on their smart phones, playing video games or watching TV. These are not kids into drugs or stealing.
Since it was founded many years ago, 4-H Shooting Sports has served millions of young Americans. Their mission states, “To assist youth in acquiring knowledge, developing life skills, and forming attitudes so they may become self-directing, productive and contributing members of society.”
Through the program, participants learn safe marksmanship and archery skills from an early age. State-level 4-H clubs offer programs for individual training as well as team competition shooting. There is also the 4-H Shooting Sports National Championship Event each summer which hosts shotgun, air rifle, air pistol, small-bore rifle, small-bore pistol, compound archery, recurve archery, muzzle-loading rifle and hunting skills events. The opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the competition kind, remind you of the Olympics.
If you know anything about 4-H, you probably think of growing crops, raising and showing livestock and competing for blue ribbons at the county fair. You might not know that 4-H and related programs exist in 80 countries around the world. It is the largest youth development organization in the United States with nearly six million members, but of that number, only 17 percent of kids involved actually live on farms as most people would probably think. The majority come from suburban and urban communities.
It’s not just about shooting. The objectives of the program center on building life skills that include decision-making, teamwork, self-discipline, self-confidence and problem solving. The program also works to promote the highest standards of safety and sportsmanship, along with an appreciation and understanding of natural resources.
The Shooting Sports curriculum uses the resources of land-grant universities, Cooperative Extension agents and certified 4-H leaders, instructors and trainers. The adult instructors involved try to provide a positive relationship with the students. A national or state certified instructor teaches each discipline.
They also tie in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education along with shooting sports and hunting training programs. Instructors are given STEM activities they can relate to a part of the kids training in shooting.
All volunteers go through a background check and have archery and gun safety training, along with 4-H classes on youth development. It’s all designed to provide a partnership with a caring adult and a safe environment for youth to learn how to move forward, working on their own.
If you’re interested in becoming involved with the 4-H Shooting Sports Program, you can go to your state 4-H website. You can also go to the national shooting sports website and find a state contact for each of the states involved.
The National 4-H program treats Shooting Sports just like any of their other programs, whether it’s livestock or foods and nutrition or computers or woodworking. The goal is to get kids into a positive setting where they can have fun learning and develop lifelong skills while working closely with an adult, other than a parent, who really cares and takes interest in them.
If the national media ever did decide to tell this great story, I would suggest to them that they interview Jon Zinnel and Hannah Persell. Both Jon and Hannah started in the program at a young age and competed for many years in the National Championships.
Jon, who now works for Vista Outdoors, is a past 4-H Shooting Sports Ambassador. Hannah is serving as a Shooting Sports Ambassador while she attends the University of Missouri where she is majoring in Agri Business.
Ambassadors represent 4-H and 4-H Shooting Sports for public relations purposes at special events such as donor/sponsor functions and with the general public. They also serve as spokespersons for the Shooting Sports program.
Hannah would not hesitate to tell the national media, “Participating in the Shooting Sports has given me confidence, communication skills, patience, the drive to succeed in life and made me into a hard worker.” All qualities that American companies are looking for in employees they hire.
Jon would say to the national media and anyone else, “The 4-H Shooting Sports Program is something the kids never forget and the skills they learn stay with them and benefit them the rest of their lives.”
In today’s broken world, it’s a great story that needs to be told.