Five minutes into his first skeet-shooting lesson, 13-year-old Jack Palms had missed a couple of shots in a row. Palms, who hails from Highland Park, is no stranger to shotguns. He’s used his Remington 1187 20-gauge to hunt doves and coyotes, but he came to John Calandro Jr. for some skeet advice.
Palms misses again, and lets out a sigh.
“You’re fine; keep going,” Calandro said. “I’ll keep watching you.” He gave the beginner a few words more, then stepped back and let the birds fly. Palms nailed three straight.
“How’s it feel?” Calandro asked.
“Feels good,” Palms said. This time, his sigh was one of relief.
Calandro, 25, and his father, John Sr., also of Highland Park, are two-thirds of the coaching trio that instructs kids interested in clay sport shooting. The Calandros, along with another John (Harris), are looking to organize competitive shooting teams in Highland Park schools through the Scholastic Clay Target Program. The teams would compete against others around the state and, should they qualify, the nation.
John Jr. played soccer at Highland Park, and was district Co-Most Valuable Player in 2006. For five years beginning at age 5, he was coached by his dad on a youth soccer team called the Bombers. His teammates included Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
John Jr. himself almost turned pro as a Major League Soccer player, but injuries piled up and he instead turned his attention to the shotgun business. Chris, another of John’s sons, who played football at HPHS, was president of the school’s shotgun club until he graduated in 2009. Since then, there hasn’t been one at the school.
Each of the three coaches have years of experience. John Sr. said he shot 18,000 competition targets last year alone, and John Jr. has been shooting since he was 16.
“What I do is I try to help them get started and get a base fundamental program,” said John Sr., also president of the Texas Sporting Clays Association. “The thing that will get them to a higher level of shooting is seeing more targets. It’s just doing it. It’s getting out there and doing it.”
John Sr. primarily handles the organizational aspects, while John Jr. keeps the kids into it.
“He smiles all the time, and they love being with him,” John Sr. said of his son. “It’s like being out with buddies. He makes sure they have fun all the time.”
During their lesson, Palms asks his coach questions in rapid-fire succession, and often jokes with him in between shots. John Jr.’s age makes relating to the kids easier, as does his head of hair. His dreadlocks, he said, often lead others to believe he’s a gun novice.
“I might not look like I shoot, but I can,” he joked.
Each of the three coaches teaches 3-5 kids at a time, and lessons cost as much as $50 per hour. John Sr. plans on entering his teams into the SCTP state championship taking place next June.