With an aim to teach safety above all else, Fran Jacobs has found an interesting niche in the Lower Providence community. The head coach of the Main Line Trap organization, Jacobs aims to teach local youth the skills, safety and athleticism of an Olympic sport.
“We coach boys and girls, from fifth through 12th grades,” said Jacobs.
Seven years ago, Jacobs returned to the area after living in California where trap shooting was a major sport.
“There, about a thousand kids compete every weekend in organized youth trap,” he said. “Before I moved back here, I reached out to several local clubs to see if they had any youth teams like it.”
Finding next to nothing, Jacobs felt it would be a great addition to the more traditional sports offered in suburban Philadelphia.
“Some clubs said flat out they didn’t want kids around here,” he said. “But some wanted it. I had kids, but I didn’t know how to build [a club]. Two clubs here really embraced it.”
Jacobs found support in both the West Chester and the Lower Providence Rod and Gun Club.
“Since then, it has been awesome,” said Jacobs of his club in Lower Providence. “We are so well received by membership there.”
Trap involves the shooting of clay targets, he explained. Much like the similar sport “skeet shooting,” where two houses shoot a clay pigeon in front of the shooter, trap also involves clay targets.
“In skeet, they are left and right, right in front of you,” said Jacobs of the clay targets. “In trap, they are moving away from you. It is still two targets, a similar sport.”
Since its start, his club has grown by word-of-mouth, in an area Jacobs said has really “embraced” the sport.
“We take any youngsters that want to learn the sport,” he said. “It is my intention in the coming two to three years to have 10 teams. These clubs and groups and schools then could compete against one another.”
Jacobs admitted that the stigma of guns and youth often prevents others from finding more out about his group. However, he is hopeful that as the club grows, more area residents will become educated about what trap is all about.
“We are close to getting our first school on board, and trap would be a part of after school activities there,” he said. “All I need is one, and others will understand it is socially acceptable, because it is.”
He said with news of 9-year-olds shooting automatic Uzi guns, the fear is more publicized than the reality.
“It is an easy answer; yes, the stigma is out there,” said Jacobs. “But that just means we have to do it cleaner and better than the rest. I have a GPA requirement, and only allow clean-cut athletes. I’m going to hold my athletes to a higher standard.”
Jacobs calls the group a “youth development program” and an Olympic development training program.
“Athletes have the opportunity to be seen by Olympic coaches,” he noted.
After growing up near a duck pond with a family that naturally included shooting as part of life, Jacobs said he’s always found safe ways to operate guns.
“When we moved to California, unbeknownst to us, we moved next to trap club,” said the coach. “My children, the second is very athletic, but the first not so much. We were looking for a sport to get him involved in, and he immediately glommed onto trap shooting.”
Jacobs said trap is no different than other competitive sports.
“Many kids are competitive,” he said. “They just don’t do it with balls and sticks.”
Trap has a high level of competition, teamwork and athleticism, yet welcomes those of all ages and backgrounds.
“This is a sport where boys and girls compete with and against each other,” said Jacobs. “We take all shapes and sizes and ages. Being physically fit is not required. If you are safe, you compete on Sunday. We have no bench.”
Jacobs said it does not take much to get started in the venture. Those without a gun may borrow the club’s loaners. Those however that travel to regional events must bring their own.
Depending on the age and size of the athlete, trap engages youth in different sizes of fire arms.
“Youngsters and those we are just introducing to the activity, we use a .410,” said Jacobs. “We are talking a petite fifth or sixth grader. It introduces them quietly, slowly, with no fear of the activity. It is a very light recoil. But, they still hear the noise, they see the clay get dusted, and as a coach, I then see all 42 teeth, a real big smile saying ‘look what I did, Mr. Jacobs’ when they hit that first target.”
Older athletes, or those with more experience, can move up to a 20-gauge or “if size permits,” Jacobs said, a 12-gauge.
There is no cost to join, and only “nominal fees for target fees, and boxes of shells,” explained Jacobs.
“There is no requirement to shoot ‘X’ number of boxes per practice,” he said. “Some may do one box, or one round, and that’s fine. Others may do two or three or four.”
Last year, the club competed in 20 events around the region. Jacobs said the team went to Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties, as well as Maryland, and competitions in Central Pennsylvania.
“We even took kids to the U.S. National Championships in Las Vegas,” said the coach. “We took a squad of first-year athletes to nationals.”
Out of 200 possible points, two of Jacobs’ athletes scored a 191, which was just three targets off the podium at nationals. A third athlete put up a 188.
Jacobs said that, besides safety, the children are learning life lessons in this sport.
“A fourth [at nationals] had to compete with a loaner [gun], “ said Jacobs. “While he was out there, his gun broke. You walk off line crying, and had every opportunity to quit. You’re nervous, focused, but had a chance to quit.”
Jacobs asked his athlete if he wanted to go on.
“I asked if he wanted to compete, and he did,” said Jacobs. “I told him, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ These are life lessons to use for rest of life. He had every reason to walk off line, and you didn’t. I told his teammates, you owe this athlete lot of grace, if he had quit on you, the cadence or tempo would have been off (as a team).”
The year-round sport is accepting new members. Any interested parties can learn more by emailing Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling his personal phone at 916-997-8164. The club also has a Facebook page, which you can “Like” by clicking here.
For more information on the club’s home base, the Lower Providence Rod and Gun Club, visit the website here. The club hosts adult trap shoots every Friday night from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., weather permitting (temperatures above 20-degrees). Trap Clinics are held at the club on Wednesday nights from 5:30 p.m. to dark for members and invited guests of members only.