MAHOPAC, N.Y. – Mahopac’s Frank Zito will be in shotgun formation next year at the University of Alabama, but it won’t be on the football field.
The high school senior announced three weeks ago that he will continue clay-shooting competitively next year in Tuscaloosa for the university’s club team.
Zito’s signing-day commitment on Wednesday, Nov. 20, stood out among the traditional announcements of lacrosse, soccer, baseball, softball, football or field hockey. The Mahopac native said he learned to shoot when he was 7 or 8 years old, after his father bought a skeet machine for their property in Harpersfield, a Delaware County town about 120 miles northwest of Mahopac. Skeet machines automatically throw clay targets into the air.
“My parents realized I was doing really well with it,” Zito said. “Like, I’d rarely miss.”
From there, Zito’s parents looked into local clubs. He began practicing at the Putnam County Fish and Game Association, located in Carmel, where he honed his craft by listening to advice and watching others shoot.
Zito now trains out of Willow Wood in Mahopac and occasionally with a New Jersey-based coach. He also competes at “highly competitive” events in the tri-state area and Pennsylvania, mostly against adults.
“The people are so nice,” Zito said. “Everybody is willing to help. As competitive as it can be, everybody there is looking to help you out and make you shoot better.”
There are many different shooting disciplines in which a person could compete. Though each discipline has its own set of rules, the basic principles are the same: the more targets you hit, the higher your score.
Zito competes in sporting clays, which he described as “golf with a shotgun,” and American trap, where targets are thrown by a machine from almost ground level.
“In American trap, you have five different stances,” Zito said. “So, you shoot five shots at each station. The targets go straight away, right, left at a fixed speed.”
Courses for sporting clays are “designed to simulate the hunting of ducks, pheasants, other upland birds, and even rabbits,” according to the National Sporting Clays Association.
“You move from station to station, shooting all different presentations,” Zito said. “You can have crossing targets, targets coming at you, going away.”
When pondering college options, Zito sought schools where he could continue to shoot competitively. His decision was made easy when he visited the University of Alabama.
“I fell in love,” he said. “The people down there are nice. The campus is beautiful.”
The university’s clay-shooting team formed a decade ago. It gives students the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level at various events around the country.
Zito is unsure where shooting will take him after college, but he could pursue the Olympics, which would require him to train with the United States team based out of Colorado.
For now, Zito is focused on his next four years at Alabama, where he plans to study mechanical engineering.