To find National Champions, and lots of them, look no further than the Sporting Clay, Skeet and Trap team at JU.
A shooting team? At JU you say?
They’ve won nineteen National Event Titles, at least two outright National Championships and have had thirteen team members invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Each year they’re a top ten national program, no matter what division.
“These are really good kids,” is the first thing founding program director and Head Coach Dave Dobson says about his team.”
There are usually around 40 members of the team. They “practice” at Jacksonville Clay Target Sports on New Berlin Road.
Dobson started the team as a club sport at JU in 2009. The team became a varsity sport in 2011. He also helped start the clay sports team at UNF as a club sport with one of his students in 2010.
Dave is an accomplished clay sports shooter who is also one of only two instructors in the US certified by both the National Skeet Shooting and National Sporting Clays Associations at level three. He runs a clay shooting school and serves on several boards including at Jacksonville Clay Target Sports. He’s also rated as a Master Instructor. In other words, he’s pretty unique
I first met Dave in the mid-‘80’s when my friend Larry Gordon invited me to sit in with the horn section and play my trumped with the “Not Tonight I’ve Got the Blues” band. Dobson was the band’s guitar player. He was, and still is, phenomenal at that as well.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say we are to the collegiate clay sports world what the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Florida and Clemson are to the football world: we are a powerhouse,” said Dobson.
“We recruit highly sought-after kids with very high GPA’s – honor students whom we help develop and succeed here and after they leave.”
And the team’s success is not a secret in the clay sports community. Dobson takes calls about students joining the team from all over the US and numerous countries in Europe and South America.
“We’re bringing top academic students to JU. Twenty-seven percent of the students here are student-athletes. Our team competes for the top GPA every year.”
“I only looked at schools where I could continue my shooting career and JU had a shooting team as a varsity sport,” Allison Franza a senior from Avon Park and an assistant coach on the team said this week. Franza was a highly sought after shooter coming out of high school but picked JU because of the “whole package” they offered.
“I loved the campus, the shooting facilities (at Jacksonville Clay Sports) and the academics were a big part of it,” the business administration major noted. The JU business program is rated top three in the country. Franza got her AA in high school, is a 4.0 student and will graduate this year as an 18-year old.
“Allison is pretty indicative of our student athletes,” Dobson said. “We’re looking for high GPA students. Recruitment and retention is what we’re all about.”
Franza is one of fifteen women who will be part of the squad this year. “I have a twin brother (who shoots on the UNF team) who did that. I went to one of his tournaments. I thought it looked easy, but it’s not!”
The team has spawned an academic track for the Dolphins in the JU Wingshooting program. They study the history of shooting, eye dominance, safety and plenty of theoretical and practical applications.
“The courses allow the students to gain an appreciation for the sport and become mentors and instructors themselves,” Dobson said.
“We go from beginning to advanced. It allows students to explore all parts of the clay sports industry. It gives them practical experience, including gun club management.”
In fact, clay-shooting sports are the fastest growing element of team sports in High School and colleges. Alabama, Clemson and Lindenwood out of St. Louis are among JU’s fiercest competitors.
“I’d say Clemson is our nemesis, our biggest rival. We beat them twice this year. We go back and forth. But they’re running a great program up there,” Dobson said.
As a four-time member of Team USA and an international competitor, Kelby Seanor had some family ties in Jacksonville and transferred to JU from the University of Georgia to join the team. In a bit of irony, picked the Dolphins over Clemson when he decided to transfer.
“I wanted to start at team at Georgia,” he explained of his first two years in Athens. “But JU had a well established varsity team here and I’m glad I came.”
Seanor is a multiple time clay sports All-American and graduated from JU this year with a degree in political science. He wants to get into the gun and shooting industry as a profession after graduate school. He’ll serve as an assistant coach for the Dolphins after competing in the World Championships in England next month.
Adding team members to the program who are beginners and learn through the academic program is one of the most rewarding aspects of Seanor’s experience at JU.
“The biggest place I’ve grown is my teaching,” he explained. “That’s grown exponentially. Mentoring all of these people who have never picked up a gun has really helped. Working on their mental and technical game. It’s cool to see how they grow.”
“Coach Dobson leads the program in a way that allows students to fully engage,” said Kristie Gover, the Senior VP for Student Affairs at JU and Dean of Students. “Team members are given the opportunity to play an active role in designing the team experience.”
“They run the team under my guidance-mentor program,” Dobson explained. “They have always made good leadership and business decisions. Super proud of them. They take a stake in it.”
“Some come to me and want to go inactive on the team to concentrate on their academics,” he added. “That’s paramount here at JU and we support that. Academics come first.”
While the team is subsidized through University funds, it’s donations that help them compete at the highest level. Fund raising is an important element in making the team what Dobson calls “the gold standard.” Dobson’s and his wife Adeline contribute every year. JU President Tim Cost and his wife Stephanie include the shooting team in their donations to the University.
“The board and Tim have been incredibly supportive,” Dobson noted. “We have so many friends of the program who donate money, the Felker’s (Caren and Paul), Sandy Semanik and others who make all this possible.”