Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Walworth boy aiming high

by Mike Ramczyk

June 30, 2011

Walworth — Talk about shooting for the stars.

Sharpshooter Chris Long's impeccable aim has helped him drill target after target in life, whether it's enduring diabetes, firing at clay pigeons or making new friends.

The 14-year-old Walworth resident recently won the Southwest Zone Handicap trap shoot competition in Janesville, and he will move on to the state competition in mid-July in Waukesha and nationals in Sparta, Ill., in the beginning of August.

Chris, wearing glasses and speaking in an exuberant tone, spoke of how nationals will be a challenge. But he is simply happy to be at this point. It wasn't all roses when Chris started trap shooting.

He began shooting skeet, a different configuration from trap, at age seven, before starting trap shooting two years ago for the Delavan Sportsman's Claybusters, a roughly 30-member club which includes kids from surrounding communities. Chris had a rough time at first.

"The first year I went out, I would cry when I came off the line when I did bad," Chris said. "Dad just said 'Do your best, and if you do, you'll get a good outcome.'"

After a couple years, Chris became a natural. His handicap started at 19 yards and is now 21 yards. The handicap makes it an even playing field, as many adults will shoot at anywhere from 25 to 27 yards back.

"I shot between 15 and 20 perfect 25s, and after so many, there were no more nerves," Chris said. "It became easy."

In trap shooting, competitors fire 25 shots at a time at clay pigeons, and the most targets hit out of 100 yields a winner. It is open to all ages, and Chris has competed against adults on several occasions.

Against all odds

While hitting even one target would be a tall task for most people, Chris does it along with his everyday battle with juvenile diabetes.

"It's definitely a consideration," said Dan Long, Chris' father. "Chris takes five or six shots a day. Trap shooting suited him better than other sports may have."

When Chris won in Janesville last month, temperatures were in the 90s with little shade.

"The heat can cause a lot of problems," Dan said. "We teach the kids to eat and hydrate correctly."

Chris said it's not something he can take for granted.

"When I see a good number on my meter, I'll be OK," he said. "If it's between 100 and 200, it's good. But when it's higher, I'll get a little intimidated then have to give myself insulin. I can tell something's wrong because I start to get a headache or get thirsty. But it's something I can constantly check when I'm out there. The better the number, the better I shoot. I just have to make sure it's OK before I go out there."

Dan added preparation starts the night before a competition. He said it's something that is manageable most of the time.

Shooting offers a positive outlet for Chris. He has been able to form friendships and really boost his confidence. Chris, an incoming freshman at Big Foot High School, can be considered a trail blazer.

"It's a different sport," he said. "At my school (Walworth Elementary), most kids don't shoot trap. Most play football, soccer or baseball or something. I wanted to be different."

Chris' mom, Natalie, has noticed a difference in her son's attitude.

"Since he started shooting, I've seen his self-esteem and confidence build up," she said. "He is happy, and it shows maybe more than some other kids."

Chris said he used to play Xbox a lot, but after getting rid of the gaming system, his shooting improved.

"It keeps me out of trouble," he said. "It shows that I have a sport to do. Anybody can be good at this sport. Two weeks after I got rid of my Xbox, I won two shoots in one week. I would've never done that before. It gets kids outside and makes me feel better."

Chris added he has met so many new friends through the club.

"Being part of this shows maybe you're wanted," he said. "I've met a lot of friends, like Bobby Ebbers from Burlington. Since I've met him, we've always shot together. We go to each other's houses."

As for competing, Chris had a showdown with an adult shooter last month in Janesville.

Chris drilled 99 targets to his opponent's 98, earning him the Southwest Zone title.

Chris said the stakes were high.

"He shot first, and I was on a different station," Chris said. "A kid came up to me before I shot and said he shot a 97, so I put that in my head. I drilled my first 25 along with my second and third 25. In the middle of my third station, I missed to the right. So I knew I couldn't miss again because I would probably end up in a tie-breaker."

At state and nationals, Chris has his eyes on the prize.

"I want to take one target at a time and not worry about anyone else," he said. "Whatever I do, I want to do my best."

For Dan, the club is something bigger than hitting a target.

"With anybody, you have to have something that puts your mind in another place, even if for a short time," he said. "That's what shooting does for me and Chris. It doesn't matter what you want to do, something must drive you and get you up out of bed every day. There were days when Chris wouldn't want to get out there, now he's always asking to shoot."