Fresh air, free clinics, lots of smiles at union-sponsored outdoors clinic

More than 40 boys and girls sampled shooting sports, fishing and archery under the guidance of local union volunteers Sunday, Sept. 15, at Get Youth Outdoors Day in Clear Lake Township.

Among the attendees were four siblings from Princeton: 9-year-old Jack Kohl, 12-year-old Laura, 13-year-old Timothy and 15-year-old James. It wasn’t long after they arrived at his archery station that Bryce Mastin, a volunteer instructor, sniffed out the sibling rivalry.

“You can all hit the target,” Mastin said, lining up the young archers to shoot at a stuffed buck. “Now we’re going to find out who can put meat in the freezer.”

Before long, other children had wandered over, looking to get in on the family’s friendly competition. Some of their arrows whizzed past the deer. Others pierced its back and side.

But it was the second-oldest Kohl, Timothy, who hit the “kill zone,” site of the deer’s vital organs. Mastin howled with delight as Timothy collected grudging high-fives from his brothers and sisters.

It was the kind of scene Mark Conroy, business manager of Roofers Local 96, saw play out over and over at the event, which has been offered free to area children for the last eight years, thanks, in part, to proceeds from Local 96’s sporting clays shoot, held the day before.

Eric Bakken, an event coordinator with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and native of Blaine, taught 9-year-old Elsie Franklin of Oak Grove how to cast a fishing line.

“I walked around there during the youth event, and every single kid had a big old grin on their face,” Conroy said. “It is always a fun event, and it just keeps getting better every year.”

Both the sporting clays shoot and the youth event were held at Wild Marsh Sporting Clays, and facilitated in partnership with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. The USA is a nationwide nonprofit that builds union solidarity by bringing together members who enjoy hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

“It bridges a lot of gaps,” Scott Vance, USA’s executive director said. “We do a lot of events to connect unions together through conservation and passing that outdoors heritage along to the next generation.”

To make that work possible, local unions sponsor fundraising banquets and events around the country. Roofers Local 96’s sporting clays shoot, which drew 226 shooters Sept. 14, raised a record $150,000 in its ninth year.

The success of Local 96’s shooting competition – and of Get Youth Outdoors Day – speaks to the support of the Roofers’ international union, local building trades unions and their vendors, Conroy said.

Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 and the Central Minnesota building trades council co-sponsored the youth event, along with the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The law firm of Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deuren covered the cost of renting the facility for Saturday’s competition, and the Roofers’ international sponsored any youth shooter between 11 and 17 who wished to compete.

Kinsey Robinson, the Roofers’ international president, attended both the competition and the youth event. Robinson has long been a vocal proponent of USA, and he noted that about 70 percent of union tradespeople nationwide count outdoors sports among their hobbies.

“We want to support them, and we want to ensure access to the outdoors for their sons and daughters,” Robinson said.

“Events like this around the country bring together different crafts, different unions,” he added. “And just like in collective bargaining or political issues, we’re speaking with one voice. Except here we’re speaking with one voice to say we support conservation.”

Gavin Goenner, 11, tried his hand at clay shooting with coaching from Kinsey Robinson, international president of the United Union of Roofers.

Before Get Youth Outdoors Day wrapped up, participants watched a dog-training exhibition, enjoyed a catered lunch and received a bag stuffed with birdcalls, outdoors literature and other freebies.

“These tools that they learned today, we hope it’s something they carry with them,” USA conservation coordinator Cody Campbell said. “For most of these kids, this is an opportunity they wouldn’t get on a normal basis.”

At least one youngster was hooked. By the time his name was pulled during a drawing for door prizes after lunch, he was already back on the trap range, busting clays.

“Events like this are about teaching kids that there’s more to life than video games, there’s more to life than concrete,” Vance said. “We love doing events like this. We see it as the culmination of our mission.”

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