SPARTA — It’s difficult to imagine the nondescript building on the north side of Illinois 154 at the east edge of Sparta is the epicenter of the trapshooting world.
When the Amateur Trapshooting Association moved its signature event, The Grand American, to Sparta’s World Shooting and Recreational Complex in 2012, it just made sense to move the corporate headquarters to Randolph County as well.
As a result, Lynn Gipson, the ATA’s executive director since Jan. 1, 2012, has made his home in Sparta for the past six years.
“One of the first things the executive committee told me is ‘We’re going to move our office from Vandalia to Sparta, Illinois. So, go find a place,’” he said. “I was somewhat familiar (with Sparta), but not entirely. I started looking around and found a few properties. This building here was just perfect.
“There hadn’t been an executive director for a few years. The executive committee was kind of assuming the role. Everything was kind of disjointed, there was kind of right hand — left hand stuff going on. It just made sense to have the office here where the Grand is. It’s worked out well.”
Producing The Grand American is the biggest task faced by the 13-person ATA staff. However, the ATA handles an incredible amount of data on a daily basis. The organization tracks the activity of 1,000 shooting clubs and its 60,000 members.
That is even more mind-boggling when one realizes hunters shoot in eight categories, largely based on age and experience. There are separate categories for men and women. And, members shoot singles, doubles and handicap events.
The sheer amount of data is staggering.
“Unlike a lot of other membership organizations, it kind of ends there,” Gipson said. “Maybe you try to sell them a magazine, but with us, a lot of our members we’re having to maintain their weekly information because they’re shooting some place. There are about 1,000 gun clubs worldwide, and we get shooting reports every day from a shooting club some place.
“We also take care of attainments. When a shooter reaches a certain plateau in their career, we recognize them with a certificate. We also determine the All-American teams with the help of Trap and Field Staff. We track the points the shooters accrue during the year toward the All-American teams.”
The organization does electronic mailings for the shooting clubs and Grand American sponsors. The ATA even sends career achievement certificates to families of deceased members.
There is so much data handled that custom software systems have been created for the organization.
“It (ATA membership) starts and ends here,” Gipson said. “It starts here with your membership and it ends when we’re notified by a delegate that a member has passed away. Another one of our services, we create a career attainment certificate and give it to the delegate to present it to the family. It’s a way to thank the family, allow us, our sport to steal their time.”
However, everything revolves around the All-American. Producing the 10-day event, held the first two weeks of August, is a 12-month a year job.
“We’re almost finished with it now, six weeks later we’re almost finished with the paperwork from the Grand,” Gipson said. “Myself and our marketing manager will start working in November to make appointments with possible sponsors. It starts and ends with the sponsors. Then, it’s what are we going to do differently, or what are we going to do the same. We found the last few years there is not much we want to do different because the Grand is going so well.”
The ATA hires 300 part-time employees to assist the 175 staff members and volunteers to put on the event. Most of the preliminary work has to be wrapped up by April.
“We really have to have things finalized by the time we send the program to the printer’” Gipson said. “We send it to the printer about April 15. We have to have a lot done by April 15. The Grand is the big deal for the ATA.
“About 12 percent of our membership comes to the Grand. We have about 60,000 members worldwide now because we have members in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, in good numbers, and we have some members in other countries. They are shooting a lot of registered targets in Brazil and New Zealand.”
And, over the past 12 years, it has become a huge deal to Southern Illinois.