A Great Sporting Event

This article appeared in Baseball Magazine May, 1913

 

A Great Sporting Event

Baseball’s Closest Rival is Trap Shooting

By SAMUEL WESLEY LONG

 

     What the World’s Series is to baseball, the Grand American Handicap is to the equally American sport of trap-shooting.

     Which is the greater of our national games is a matter of standard of comparison.  Judged by the number of spectators, the big event in baseball makes a difference in its own favor which is somewhat akin to that between the number composing a real army and that of the recent “New-York-to-Washington-or-Bust’ ” “army ” of suffragists.  But when the comparison is made between eighteen ball players and an “ump” or two thrown in to help fill up, and the half-thousand or more shooters who “toe the mark” during the G. A H., the number of actual participants in a World’s Series is shy a whole squad on the total number that face  the trays at a single time in the big shoot.  The “battery” of twenty-five “gun men” is quickly “retired” and its place taken in rapid succession by other squads from early in the morning until sunset—a grand total of five hundred or more.  Some “players” you will admit.

     The number of  “bugs” at  shooting events is rapidly growing and the  “galleries” at Handicaps and even in the cases of less important occasions, show greater increase as the public comes to a fuller realization of the pleasure to be derived from witnessing contests involving so great a display of skill and possessing so many of the elements of clean, manly sport.  The fact that little was offered in the way of seating facilities has, in the past, been a principal reason for the comparatively small attendance of spectators, but the  erection of modern club houses with wide verandas and upstair “galleries” is remedying the former condition.  As no charge is made to see a trap-shoot, the game will sooner or later attract a big following of “gun bugs.”  “Something for nothing,” particularly in the amusement line, has irresistible attraction.

     When it comes to science, the shooter who more or less regularly grinds out a string of one-hundred straight, takes his place with the pitcher who sends his opponents off the field with the score board showing a row of nine “goose eggs.”  However, through what for want of a better explanation, we shall call a lack of appreciation on the part of sporting editors, the expert shooter “is left to ‘smash’ his ‘clay birds’ unseen and waste his ammunition on the country air.”   Some day, the newspapers will wake up to the fact that several million pairs of eyes, which now give limited attention to the sporting pages, would be turned there were the writers alive to the fact that trap-shooting claims more “players” than any other two sports combined.

     Getting back to the G. A. H., the last place this remarkable event was held was Springfield, Illinois, in June of last year.  At the end of the fifth day, five and one-half tons of shot, deposited one and one-quarter ounces at a time, were spread over the field.  This means that 145,000 clay pigeons were trapped and a like number of shells fired.  Certainly enough ammunition to meet the demand of a half-dozen Central-American revolutions.

      The big day, the occasion of  the deciding of the Grand American Handicap, the Mayor of Springfield declared a half-holiday and the city shut up its schools, factories and stores, and adjourned to the grounds of the Illinois Gun Club to see the biggest thing that had happened in Springfield since Lincoln put the place on the map.

     Nothing was too good for the visiting sportsmen and the heartfelt hospitality of the thriving and beautiful Western city is a most pleasant recollection to those privileged to have been within its gates.  Many of the shooters still declare that at a future date, they will recapture the Illinois capital and again make a veritable battle-ground of the prairie at the edge of the city.

     During the 1912 G. A. H., several Middle Western cities lay claim to the honor of holding the 1913 event.  Among the virals were Chicago and Dayton, Ohio.  The latter place sent an organized force to present its claims and within a day or two of the arrival of the “scouting party,” four out of every five shooters were wearing buttons with the word: “Dayton.”  The “press agent” of  the “Cash- Register Town” flooded the newspapers of Springfield with “on-to-Dayton” talk and to clinch matters, the Secretary of the Dayton Chamber of Commerce sent an official invitation in the form of a telegram which read:  Dayton extends a most cordial invitation to hold the Fourteenth Grand American Handicap here in 1913.  You will find the National Cash Register Company, Wright Brothers’ flights, Soldiers’ Home, broad streets, beautiful bridges, many homes and 125,000 hospitable citizens.  Come and shoot to your heart’s content.  Dayton, the Convention City, will welcome you.”

     Dayton gets the G. A. H.  It will be held from June 17 to 20 inclusive.

     What is required to “stage” a big shoot is little understood even by many who participate.  In the first place there must be a tract of land, preferably level and without trees to obstruct the “sky background,” and this lot must be fully as large as a big-league ball park.  Several hundred lockers must be provided for the safe keeping of shooters’  “street clothes” while shooting and for the storage of guns and shooting togs when the owners are not on the “firing line.”  A water-proof magazine is necessary to take care of a car load or so of shot-gun shells.  Offices must be provided for the officials and clerical force.  These buildings, together with mammoth rest tents, a dining tent and tents for the exhibits of makers of guns, ammunition, shooters' clothing, and the various accessories of the sport form a small city that must be temporarily erected.  Usually five new trap houses must be constructed, traps installed, shooting pegs at the handicap positions driven, platforms furnished for shooters to stand on and a fence built to keep spectators back of the “firing line.”

     As to the personnel, there must be a field force of five referees, five scorers, five trap pullers, five trappers and five squad hustlers constantly employed.  Perhaps a like number of substitutes is held in reserve.  There is also a mechanical squad to look after the adjustment and possible repairs of the traps and other equipment.  The office force consists of a manager, assistant manager, cashier, compiler of scores and the necessary clerical help.

     Added to the tremendous amount of work entailed in the keeping of scores, is the task of handicapping the shooters, using as a basis their “past performances” at “registered shoots in all sections of the United States.  These records are as carefully kept as are the batting and fielding averages of baseball players.  When one considers that  this means   “keeping tab” on something like a quarter million shooters, who are more or less continuously making changes in their records, and that these men are scattered from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from Canada to Mexico, some idea of the magnitude of the work can be had.

     The keeping of records and the management of all “registered” shoots is under the supervision of the Interstate Association with offices in Pittsburgh, Pa.  This organization bears a somewhat similar relation to trap-shooting as does the management of a major league to baseball.

     The activities of the Interstate Association are all the more remarkable when one considers that trap-shooting is essentially an amateur sport.  The only other game to which so much effort and expense are devoted is professional baseball.  Golf, tennis, cricket, polo, or football shows nothing to equal the  organization of trap-shooting.  This work is carried on at no expense to the shooter.  He simply pays for what he gets—his shells and targets.  Entrance fees go to make up the big purses which are offered as rewards for skill.  Under certain conditions, the difference between entrance fees and the winnings of the contestant, at “registered” shoots is returned to the shooter under what is known as the “Squier-Maney-Back-System.”

     All of us like to excell in the things we do, whether they be in the line of work or of “play,” and, while not all of us will admit it, being human, we get a certain satisfaction from the attendant honors of leading our fellows.  The sport of trap-shooting offers many opportunities to become a “champion”—the range extending over team, club, city, inter-city, state, interstate, and national honors.  The prizes possible to win, in addition to leadership in one or more of the classes, include medals, trophies, and moneys varying from a few dollars to $600.00 in the chief event of the Grand American Handicap.

     Something in the neighborhood of six hundred shoots have already been “registered” with the Interstate Association for this year.  Yet, even so large a number probably does not represent more than one-tenth of the events on the calendar of the hundreds of gun clubs.

     Among the shoots of more or less national importance are: the Southwestern Handicap, San Antonio, Texas, April 8-10; the Southern Handicap, Montgomery, Alabama, April 15-17; the Grand American Handicap, Dayton, Ohio, June 17-20; the Eastern Handicap, Wilmington, Delaware, July 15-17.  Others, which, with the ones mentioned, make up the “Bix Six” are the Western Handicap, and the Pacific-Coast Handicap.

     The title of this article may be resented by the jump-up-on-your-seat-and–yell-like-thunder “fan,” but if you will accept the number of  “players” as the standard of greatness in games, be on hand at Dayton during the G. A. H.   The writer will not appeal from your decision as “umpire.”  The chances are you will return from the “big noise,” a cross between a “fan” and a “gun-bug.”

     Here’s to the great American twins—Baseball and Trap-shooting.  Baseball is supreme just now, but trap-shooting is its closest rival.