GLADEWATER — The sun was just beginning to heat up Saturday morning as 480 marksmen and women began taking aim and firing.
“Everybody’s kind of getting in the groove,” Chad Crisp said, waiting for his turn at Station 3 on the elder of two 14-station sporting clay courses in the woods south of Gladewater. “We have a lot of fun doing this.”
The Sporting Clays Challenge hit its 20th year Saturday. The fundraiser at Prairie Creek Sporting Clays hits a bull’s eye for Buckner Children and Family Services. The nonprofit agency provides foster services for children and helps East Texas families struggling with poverty and other challenges.
“In the last 19 years, we’ve raised right at $3 million,” Buckner Family Hope Center Director Susan Williams said. “This year, we’ll surpass the $3 million mark. It all stays in East Texas. All of it is used for programming and none for overhead, none for salaries, none for building.”
Orange explosions were occurring throughout the wooded skeet courses, each following the pop of a shotgun trained on the clay discs being hurled in all directions.
A steady, west wind kept the July sun from overpowering the morning, a breezy harbinger of the storm that was at that moment arriving on the Louisiana coast with shortlived hurricane status.
“Unless it’s pouring, we’re shooting,” 20-year event board member Charles Rader said
Two father/daughter pairs were at Station 14 on the Old Course, where the clays simulated two birds flushed away.
“This is a pretty easy one, actually, when the birds are going directly away from you,” Lane Williams said as her friend, Shelby Brown, fired on the fleeing targets. “It easier. It’s when they are going cross-wise, that’s when it gets hard.”
Scott Brown thought his daughter was right on target.
“She did really well,” the father said, standing near fellow dad Matthew Williams. “We started doing this when I was younger. We do the father/daughter thing every year.”
Volunteer Marc McWilliams, was overseeing scorekeepers helping the nonprofit group as part of their community service. The Gregg County official knew the key to keeping the hundreds of shooters in motion.
“The main thing is the scorekeepers keep them going,’ he said, mimicking the pitch: “ ‘OK, Bill, you’re next. And you’re up next.’ ”
Ryan Beddingfield, 15, watched as his big brother, Griffin Beddingfield, brought down both clays at Station 13.
“They are kind of slow,” he said, before taking his turn with his 12-gauge. “It makes it easier, gives you more time.”
Throughout the morning, volunteer Doug Sapp would pop up at various stations. Better known as Happy the Clown, he was without the balloons he twists into shapes for children at events across the region.
“I tripped,” Sapp said, holding up a bandaged wrist but still smiling. “No balloons today. I’m vol-un-teeeering.”