By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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That is the attitude of many new recruits. Felix Gonzalez, a 46-year-old Miami gastroenterologist, started relaxing with sporting clays two years ago. On a recent Sunday he unwound with his eleven-year-old son, Andres, while his wife and daughter attended a ballet. Andres eliminated a commendable 51 of 100 targets and enjoyed razzing his dad. For the doctor the shooting experience is rather meditative. "You have to concentrate so much on hitting the target that it takes your mind off your stress," he comments.
Mariano Macias of the CCC thinks sporting clays could serve a higher purpose for South Florida. "I've gone to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia for business meetings, and part of the entertainment that they offer is to go shooting. And they have a beautiful facility. And nobody in Miami has ever done that," laments Macias, who owns two medical-supply companies. "With all these companies that come into town for conventions and so forth, they think golf, tennis, but they never think about taking somebody out to shoot sporting clays. For me that would be something that would be a lot of fun."
And a lot of fun for the kids.
Every sport needs new recruits to carry it into the future. On a recent Wednesday night at the range, Herby Kanzki and his friend, Alex Veloso, are having fun obliterating flying targets to smithereens. Veloso is a 23-year-old medical student who competed in the NSCA national championships last year. Kanzki's sister, Elda, is watching. "They bring me along to competitions and have me wink at the other shooters to distract them," she says in English, with an accent that reveals her Haitian roots.
Veloso has been shooting shotguns since he was a little boy. His father, Angel Veloso, a surgeon and CCC member, introduced him to the sport. Alex stopped competing recently to concentrate on his studies. He also confesses he was taking the pastime a bit too seriously. After choking at a competition in Texas last year, he became intensely frustrated. "I threw my gun down," he says. "That's when I knew I needed to take a break." His friend Kanzki has now overtaken him.
Carlos Rice, Jr., a former junior national cycling champion and CCC member along with his dad, sums up the charm of blowing clay pigeons to bits. The twenty-year-old graduate of Belén Jesuit Preparatory School is now a chemistry student at the University of Miami. "It's something I can do with my father," he says. But it is more than that. "It does things for your ego," he suggests, grinning and holding a Churchill-size Gloria Cubana cigar. "It gives you a sense of empowerment."
The sport is attracting even younger men. Why play video games when you can wipe out moving targets with a real gun in the fresh air? One trio of young men discovered the wonders of shotgun shooting at Trail Glades on a recent Wednesday night, as Tropical Sporting Clays staffers hosted their weekly Five Stand Social.
Steve Fischer, who spent most of the afternoon shooting, is now giving three neophytes -- Shawn Hawes, Willie Ruiz, and Don Ferguson -- a lesson in Five Stand, a scaled-down version of sporting clays that includes five stations. Fischer, this year's Copa Cuba sporting clays champ, is also a member of the NSCA's All-American team. "It's not as cheap as bowling but it's not as expensive as golf," says Fischer, a big-bellied man with a goatee and a head of thick white hair. He owns a $20,000 Krieghoff, but shoots better with his $550 Winchester Super X. He handcrafted the wood that makes up the gun's stock. On the range Fischer's attire includes a white cap bearing a pin depicting a "no whining" symbol. Fischer thinks his avocation has a bright future in the world of sports, but acknowledges a difficult hurdle must be cleared before the masses take notice. "One of the problems is you have to make it visually appealing on TV," Fischer suggests. It's true. Televised sporting clays would be about as exciting as bass fishing, though noisier.
The teacher and the trio are lined up a few feet from one another along the swamp's edge. Hawes and Ruiz, both age nineteen, have been buddies since elementary school, and they attended Sunset High together. They are similarly clad in baggy jeans and Polo caps. Ferguson is 23 years old and recently moved to Miami from Brooklyn. Occasionally they hit a target. "Okay, this one is going to go across and plop into the pond," Fischer says. His understudies are hitting about one in ten. "It's harder than it looks," Fischer says, lighting up a smoke. "Let me show ya." He grabs the shotgun. "Just look at 'em and shoot 'em. Take the time to get on 'em." He proceeds to pulverize two in a row.
Ferguson, a gangly lad dressed in shorts and a red T-shirt, steps into the booth and dispatches with five of six targets. "Excellent!" praises Fischer.
After each has shot a box of shells, they thank Fischer and hustle excitedly to their car. They are planning to come back soon, they say. They hope to pool their cash to buy a shotgun.