“Bass Pro Shop Presents the Sportsman’s Team Challenge National” returned this week to Grand Island’s Heartland Public Shooting Park for the second year.

The four-day event attracted about 100 competitors — whose abilities ranged from Olympic medal winners all the way down to newcomers who have barely handled a gun, much less fired a gun in a competitive shooting event.

Lones Wigger is a former Olympian shooter who has won two gold medals and one silver. He was one of several competition shooters representing Eley Ammunition. This is the first time he has ever competed at the Heartland Public Shooting Park. “It’s a great facility,” he said.

Wigger made the 1980 Olympics team, which boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow, as did all American athletes that year. The U.S. boycott was sparked by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Whenever Wigger competed at the Olympics, he was on an international stage. Being in Grand Island is far different.

“This is a fun game and that’s why I shoot at it,” Wigger said. “I love it because it’s fun. You don’t have to win. But when you’re representing your country in the Olympics, you feel like you have to win.

“We’re shooting against the Russians and, in the ’60s and ’70s, we pretty much dominated them,” he said. “We had a lot of good shooters, We trained together and we pushed each other, because when you have the (Olympic) trials to make the team, you better beat a couple of your teammates or you won’t make the team. And when you get there, if you don’t beat a couple of your teammates, you don’t medal. They’re that good.”

Wigger recalled at the 1974 World Championships, American shooters finished first, second, third and fourth, and a Russian was fifth. “So that shows you you’re shooting against the best.”

The Sportsman’s Team Challenge is much more low-key and more of a fun game, Wigger said.

“I enjoy it because of the people, the shooters and the stuff that I know,” he said. “It’s very competitive, but it’s still a lot of fun. It’s not life or death.”

Even though this is Wigger’s first time at the Sportsman’s Team Challenge, he is seeing a lot of familiar faces. “It’s like an old home week, you might say, to get together.”

Robert Vadasz works with the U.S. Border Patrol and lives in Tampa, Fla. He’s a member of the Border Patrol National Pistol Team.

That team has existed since the late ’40s or early ’50s as a shooting organization. “The Border Patrol sponsors us to shoot, mainly in PPC competitions (police pistol competitions),” Vadasz said.

Vadasz came to Grand Island because the Sportsman’s Team Challenge has been going on for 30 years. His hope is to get more Border Patrol agents involved to demonstrate that they “train to be proficient and professional with our firearms.”

“Also it’s a good way to hone our skills and became better gun carriers and better agents, period,” he added.

Vadasz said competing in the event brings him into contact with a different group of shooters than the ones he meets at PPC and Bianchi Cup events. “We always want to make people understand that Border Patrol is a great career and there are a lot of opportunities.”

At the same time, Vadasz said, he wants the public to know that the Border Patrol takes what it does with firearms very seriously, both in the field and competitively. He noted the Sportsman’s Team Challenge is a “very different sport,” because it is demanding on both accuracy and time. It also requires expertise with different types of firearms, including the ability to reload quickly.

For the sporting clays, the Sportsman’s Team Challenge also demands fast acquisition of targets, as well as good communication with your teammate or teammates, Vadasz said. While STC brings him in contact with some relative newcomers to the sport, he said, it also exposes him to some of the world’s best shooters — such as Wigger and Jerry Miculek, who is renowned not only as a competition shooter, but also as a professional speed shooter.

Pat Wong of Phoenix said the STC created a family reunion for her two married daughters, with one daughter coming from Paris, along with her Parisian husband and three Parisian friends, and the second daughter driving in from Denver.

She noted that gun ownership is very difficult in France. “So we have four fresh shooters today, my daughter’s husband and her three friends. This is pretty much the first time they (natives of France) have ever shot. They’re loving it.”

Wong said the Parisians were the only competitors in their class, so they will take home some awards for their friends in France to admire. However, Wong also noted that “for first-timers, they’re doing great.”

She said her Denver daughter got her husband shooting and that, in turn, got her husband’s parents, American citizens who originally are from England, shooting. “We’ve got an international crowd.”

On Saturday, the top teams in each class will compete to determine award winners for the 2017 Sportsman Team Challenge.

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I have covered local education issues for The Independent since January 1990 and have worked for The independent since 1978.

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