SPARTA — The first shots of the 2016 Grand American were fired at 9 a.m. Wednesday with equal measures of anticipation and relief.
The Amateur Trapshooting Association’s Grand American is the world’s premier trapshooting event. This is the 11th year the competition has been held at Sparta’s World Shooting and Recreation Complex. Shooters from around the world converge on Sparta for the 10-day event.
Vincent Barranco of Staten Island, New York, drove 14 straight hours to reach Sparta at 2 a.m. Tuesday, only to discover the mobile home he was renting hadn’t been delivered to the campground. He caught a few hours sleep in his pickup, but was hardly deterred.
He plans to shoot all 24 events this year.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” he said. “This is like Christmas Day, the first morning. I’ve been waiting for this all year, since last year. When I left here last year, I couldn’t wait to get back.
“This is my whole vacation. I used to do a bunch of hunting trips. I kind of pushed that aside and just plan for this two weeks. This is my two weeks. Me and a buddy come out here and do this.”
Garrett Morrison, 19, of Charlotte, Tennessee, didn’t have nearly as far to drive, but he echoed Barranco’s enthusiasm.
“It’s the start to a long 10 days of fun shooting,” he said. “This is my first year I’m going to shoot the whole program. I’m looking forward to this. This is the first time I’ve had school start late enough that I can shoot the whole program.
“This is the Mecca of trapshooting. It’s a big deal to get to show up and shoot the whole program.”
Both are attending the Grand American for the third time.
But, long-time shooters are equally enamored with the event.
Theresa Bellerive of Florida has competed in every Grand American since 1989.
“We go every year,” she said. “The amount of targets, the whole place, it’s huge. It’s awesome. It’s the world tournament. It’s the one you want to go to definitely.
"This is the first time we’ve stayed for the preliminary day and the championship events. Normally we just stay about a week, from Saturday to Saturday. It’s a lot of shooting, so this will be new to me.”
According to a Wednesday afternoon tweet from the ATA, participation in the first event, the Hodgon Powder Singles, was up 19 percent over last year.
“I was worried about them canceling it, or postponing it and trying to do it telephonic in different places,” Barranco said. “That was the rumor. They talked about doing it in three different spots and doing it telephonically. I’ve shot in those shoots. They’re not as much fun as everyone being in the same place.
“It was a big relief. We already had the reserve on the space and the trailer and I had my vacation planned.”
“I was a little concerned about it,” Bellerive said. “I was glad they decided to keep it here. Hopefully, they’ll continue to do that. It was pretty much what everyone was listening about, the rumors about not having it here.
“That stirred up a little bit of anxiety. We were all listening to see if we were going to be here, or be somewhere else. You have to plan your airline tickets, your hotel — you kind of want to know where it’s going to be. I was hoping this was going to be the place.”
For at least the next nine days, those concerns are on hold.
“I’m glad they’ve got it worked out so we can shoot this year,” Morrison said. “I don’t know how everything else is going to turn out, but I don’t think anyone does.”