SPARTA — So far, Neil Phillippo likes what he sees.
That’s a good thing since he and four of his colleagues traveled from the environs of London, England to shoot in The Grand American at Sparta’s World Shooting and Recreational Complex.
The trip is the culmination of several years of planning.
“Probably three years ago we had the vision of going through this, but it didn’t transpire,” Phillippo said. The next year people had problems. Finally, at the beginning of this year we started to get it all organized.”
Phillippo and his friends landed in Chicago Monday and drove to Carbondale Tuesday. They got to Sparta Wednesday morning to compete in the Hodgdon Powder Singles, the first event of the 2018 Grand American.
They’ve found the World Shooting and Recreational Complex to be more grand than they expected.
“I’ve been on YouTube, I’ve seen some of the videos, but until you get here you don’t understand the scope of it,” Phillippo said.
And, the scope of the Grand American is what drew the men to Sparta. One of the largest venues they compete on has 12 trap fields. The World Shooting and Recreational Complex has 124.
“Just the size of the event,” Phillippo said. “We have got nothing to compare with this in the UK. We’ve been thinking about it for several years. We finally got around to it, there’s five of us.
“We’ll be doing singles. Because we’re not sure of the heat, we want to just do the singles for a couple days, then we’ll start doing the doubles and then the handicap probably later on next week.”
In the meantime, Joe Altom and Ron Cunning of the Dallas-Fort Worth area have a more pragmatic reason for attending The Grand American.
“We’re both competitive shooters,” Altom said. “I’m trying to make an All-American team and he is too. This is where we have to go, this is the biggest shoot in the world. In terms of trying to accumulate All-American points, and as a qualifier, this is where you have to go.”
Cunning said both plan to shoot all 2,600 targets offered over the 10-day event. The event concludes Aug. 11 with The Grand American Handicap.
In the meantime, Dave Thorson of Aberdeen, South Dakota has a more laid back approach. He has been coming to The Grand American for about 20 years.
“It’s the competition more than anything,” he said. “I’m shooting against myself more than anything. It used to be I shot against everybody else. As I get older, it’s just trying to do better myself. I reached my peak and I’m on my way down. I try to get back up there.”
But, he is a dedicated competitor. He will be in Sparta for the entire 10 days.
“I shoot the whole thing, every event, even when it’s raining or hot,” Thorson said. “I like the heat.”
The Grand American began Wednesday on the heels of another successful AIM shoot, the Amateur Trapshooting Association’s youth program.
“The AIM event we do sporting, clays, skeet, handicap, doubles and singles,” said Jim Moody, the ATA’s assistant tournament director. “I don’t have the exact numbers, but I know we were up percentage wise in double digits in every single one of those events. You can figure there were somewhere around 1,500 kids, shooting singles Monday or Tuesdays.”
Moody said registration for Wednesday’s Hodgdon Powder Singles was up slightly over last year.