Aiming Even Higher
Brad Solis had been an avid duck hunter for years before arriving on campus. And at Stetson Solis steadily had improved his skeet shooting.
Yet, he was never quite as good as on this day.
In October at the 8th Annual Fall 2018 Jacksonville SE Invitational Collegiate Shoot, Solis, a senior majoring in finance, family enterprise and economics with a minor in sales, looked every bit like a professional marksman — winning the individual competition, the first time a Hatter had ever done so.
In technical terms, Solis shot a 50 straight, breaking 25 consecutive clays twice — not missing one.
“Everyone gets nervous when they’re in competition. I just tried to think, ‘I’m in practice. It’s just a normal day of shooting,’” recounted Solis, who attended Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest, Florida. “… The hardest station in skeet is the one you’re about to shoot, because if you don’t get past that, you can’t shoot a perfect score. And this is a game of perfection. Once you shoot and you miss the target, you can’t make that up.”
For good measure, Solis added: “Just focus and get it done.”
Stetson’s Skeet and Trap Club, established in 2009, certainly has done that lately. Overall, the club’s performance in Jacksonville also made big news — a fourth-place finish, its best ever at the event, which featured top teams from colleges and universities across the Southeast.
Further, when Solis became involved with the club as a first-year student, at the urging of a fraternity friend, there were only two female participants. Now, there are approximately 10 women among a total of about 35 members. Skill levels have risen, too, with Solis commenting, “A lot of people who had never shot are becoming our best shooters.”
Meanwhile, club members have taken to calling themselves “scholar shooters,” and all agree that safety is priority No. 1.
By all accounts, the club is right on target.
This isn’t a gun club, mind you. Instead, this is all about learning the disciplines of proper firearms use, building camaraderie and challenging oneself. In turn, the club is about helping to ensure future success, regardless of where it points.
Briefly, skeet shooting involves the use of shotguns to shoot at clay targets thrown into the air by spring devices called traps. The sport originated in 1915, in the United States, as informal shooting practice for hunters. It encompasses a greater variety of shooting angles than was ever possible with trapshooting, a sport developed in England during the late 18th century.
Solis, who serves as club vice president, is an especially notable achiever at Stetson. Another is Maria Beretta Kaschai, a junior business administration major who goes by the name of Beretta — yes, as in the popular manufacturer of shotguns.
Despite being a hunter her “entire life,” she waited until second semester on campus to join the club and “ended up loving it immediately.” She’s now club president.
“It’s so unique that Stetson offers this,” said Kaschai, who arrived from Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando. “I enjoy being a part of this organization, and it’s even more honorable to be able to run it. It’s something I thought I’d never be able to do.”
Kaschai notes that club members pay a total of $250 annually, which covers practices (usually on Fridays afternoons) and competitions. Practices are located at the Volusia County Skeet and Trap Range near the Stetson campus, with the students also being members of the range. Before they get to practice, however, they receive mandatory safety instruction on campus and continually are under the supervision of range safety officers.
Of the 35 or so members, approximately 15 compete at each event. There are at least two major competitions during the academic year, but as the club has grown, scheduling has become more ambitious. For example, Kaschai hopes the club is able to compete in late March’s ACUI Collegiate Clay Target Match event in San Antonio, Texas — adding that donations are helpful and welcome.
Primary funding is provided by Stetson through the university’s budgeted support of club sports, along with endowments from the Midway USA Foundation and Richard Libby, Ph.D., the husband of Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D. The Libby endowment is especially robust. With a goal of $100,000, the fund is at $80,000. Once the goal is reached, earnings will begin to be used for club activities.
While Richard Libby is the chief benefactor, mostly he serves as club mentor/father figure/friend/coach.
Comments such as “They’re like my ‘kids’” and “I care about them; it’s genuine” are spoken slowly. Also, the words are delivered with the conviction of a caring parent who believes in self-governance, but also is watchful and will always be there, especially when things go “off-tilt,” as Libby likes to say. And off-tilt, he added, doesn’t happen often.
Not coincidentally, the club began when the Libbys arrived on campus in 2009. Richard, a longtime educator who began shooting as a child growing up in Maine, views the club as an opportunity for life learning. His management approach largely is represented in the acronym POLC — Planning. Organizing. Leading. Control. Lessons are built into each topic.
And Libby is particularly vigilant about two areas: scholarship and safety.
“I press that right out of the gate — you are going to be a student first,” he said, noting that his usual response to a club member who might become too consumed with shooting is “Practice in the library.”
Regarding safety, Libby explained in his characteristically direct manner: “You don’t get your hands on a shotgun and all of a sudden you’re on the field. No, no, no.”
Similarly, ample support comes from Mike Davis ’76, husband of Linda Davis ’73, who is retiring from Stetson in January as special advisor to the president for philanthropy, following 41 years of service.
“I probably couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn with a shotgun when I first met Richard,” Mike Davis said.
Previously, Davis had hunted deer, but not until about age 40, and was a volunteer hunter educator for State of Florida. But he was, and remains, no shooting expert, he asserted.
His attraction to the club came by virtue of an invitation from Richard Libby to attend a practice. “I found it inspiring, invigorating and challenging to work with students,” Davis remembered. That occurred some five years; he’s been a constant presence ever since then.
“I see my role as a facilitator to help guide them and give them pointers. … The club is not just about shooting but how to build a club and build relationships within that club environment,” he said.
Davis recounts Solis’ earliest days on campus, when “like a lot of students at Stetson, he looked like he needed something to anchor him.” With commitment, progression and development, Solis now is an “outstanding shooter” who can compete nationally, Davis noted.
The words of guidance, both from Richard Libby and Mike Davis, are 50 straights, right on target, hitting the mark.
Much of the same can be said about the club, in general.
It’s the type of performance that has excited students and heartened their mentors.
“I am so proud,” Libby concluded.
Said Kaschai, the student leader: “We’ve been taking big steps.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Club sports are a winner at Stetson. From August 2013 to May 2018, the club sports program grew by 58 percent to a total of 17 clubs. More than 350 Stetson undergraduate students participate in a club sport. For additional stories about the impact of club sports, read the upcoming Spring 2019 issue of Stetson University Magazine.