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NEWTOWN, Conn. -- As the Olympics prepare to showcase shooters among the world's athletic elite, America's "Little League of Shooting Sports" is celebrating record participation as well as its influence on the Games in Beijing.

The U.S. Shooting Team has just eight spots for shotgun shooters. In trial competitions, 25 percent of those spots were won by alumni of the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP), a national youth shooting league that's become a phenomenon across the country.

U.S. Shooting Team Coach Lloyd Woodhouse credits SCTP with introducing and developing shooting skills in America's youths—whether or not they become Olympians.

"I've not observed any other shooting sports program that touches so many young people in this country. I don't know of anything that even comes close. It's just incredible. It's the greatest program that I can think of in the shooting world," said Woodhouse.

Managed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) in partnership with USA Shooting and other governing bodies for shooting sports, SCTP is enjoying record participation in 2008 with 9,135 student competitors and 1,562 adult volunteers nationwide.

"The anticipation and excitement of the Olympics and two SCTP heroes competing in the Olympics appear to be helping drive interest in our program this year," said Steve Sanetti, president of NSSF.

Sanetti said the future of shooting will be on full display before the Olympics. More than a thousand youngsters from across the country are expected to compete in the SCTP National Championships in trap, skeet and sporting clays. The big event is July 31-Aug. 5 at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta, Ill.

SCTP was developed to provide school-age participants in grades 12 and under with opportunities to showcase competitive shooting skills, earn recognition and win scholarship awards. The program is designed to instill safe firearms handling, commitment, responsibility, leadership and teamwork.

Many SCTP shooters go on to compete at the collegiate level. Olympians are more rare, but former SCTP stars Corey Codgell and Vincent Hancock will represent the U.S. in Beijing in women's trap and men's skeet, respectively.

SCTP teams compete in the sports of trap, skeet and sporting clays as well as the Olympic versions of trap and skeet.

USA Shooting, the Amateur Trapshooting Association, National Skeet Shooting Association and National Sporting Clays Association partner with NSSF in support of SCTP.

Visit SCTP online at www.nssf.org/sctp.

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