Clays4Kay targets women’s cancers

The annual shooting event held at Deep River Sporting Clays and Shooting School benefits the Kay Yow Cancer Fund

Susan Coffman of Raleigh reloads her shotgun with pink shells honoring former NC State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow during the Clays4Kay event at Deep Water Sporting Clays and Shooting School. (Lauren Rose / North State Journal)

SANFORD — Camouflage is usually the color of choice at Deep River Sporting Clays and Shooting School.

On this occasion, though, it was pink.

Pink hats. Pink shirts. Pink shotgun shells. Even the lettering on the Lee County Sheriff’s Department car parked in front of the pavilion was hot pink.

The flashy makeover last Friday was in honor of Clays4Kay, a charity event in which more than 100 participants did their part to help shoot down breast cancer — literally — by raising money for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Guns line a rack waiting for the competition to begin during the Clays4Kay event at Deep Water Sporting Clays and Shooting School. (Lauren Rose / North State Journal)

While it might seem like an unusual match to pair the target shooting pursuit of sporting clays and an organization named for a legendary women’s basketball coach, the partnership came into clearer focus during the opening ceremony when organizer Ed Strickland asked one simple question of the gathered shooters.

How many of you are cancer survivors or know of someone that has had the disease, he asked.

Virtually everyone in the crowd raised their hand. Including him.

“My wife is a five-year survivor,” said Strickland, the shooting pavilion manager and event coordinator at Deep River.

“We met the people from the Kay Yow Cancer Fund at another event we were involved with in the past, so we became acquainted with them. At that point, we said how about an event called Clays4Kay, with our pink targets our pink shells, and we just got busy. This is our fourth year in and it’s been tremendous.”

From a modest beginning with only 15 three-person teams, the event has grown so large and become so popular that a second flight was added in the afternoon to accommodate everyone wanting to participate after last year’s event sold out.

“It continues to grow every year,” Strickland said. “The whole sport is growing in popularity.”

Sporting clays is often referred to as golf with a shotgun, because unlike similar disciplines skeet and trap — in which the shooting is done from a single location at targets on a similar trajectory — participants make their way around a set course on which they must execute a number of different shots.

A group of shooters waits their turn to aim at the moving targets from atop a platform during the Clays4Kay event at Deep Water Sporting Clays and Shooting School. (Lauren Rose / North State Journal)

The sporting clays course at Deep River has 13 stations spread out over a 65-acre wooded area about 30 minutes southwest of Raleigh. Each station requires a different skill depending on the angle, distance and speed with which the targets, known as clay pigeons, are launched.

One has shooters aiming at targets thrown straight into the air. Another has them coming out at an angle and yet another has them crossing from side-to-side. There’s also a station in which participants aim downward from a tower at targets moving away from them as they would if shooting at a deer from an elevated stand.

Each shooter gets four shots per station with the total score added to those of his or her four teammates. Unlike golf, the highest score wins.

“I think some guys back in the day got a little tired of trap and skeet, so they decided to put something like this together to be more like hunting situations,” said A.J. Kibby, a Southern Pines resident taking part in the Clays4Kay competition. “It’s definitely more challenging than standing there doing the same thing over and over.”

While sporting clays is a good way for avid hunters to keep their skills sharp when they’re out of season, it has just as much appeal to recreational shooters such as Susan Coffman.

“I had never been in the same room with a gun until we got started with this,” said Coffman, who shoots alongside her admittedly more competitive husband Dave. “As soon as we got started, I was hooked. It’s a pretty intuitive thing. If you just let your hands and your eyes do what they naturally do, it all comes together.

“The best thing about the sport is that it’s so friendly. It’s a very social sport. You make a lot of friends doing it.”

It’s also a meaningful way for a father and son to bond, as Kevin and Evan Cates of Durham were doing at Clays4Kays on Friday.

Kevin actually got involved in sporting clays because of Evan, who began participating in the sport through the N.C. Youth Shooting Sports Foundation. Although Evan modestly deferred to his dad, Kevin said that on many occasions, his son is a better shooter than he is.

“I grew up in the country, so I grew up hunting and fishing,” Kevin Cates said. “This is my second year doing this, but I’ve been shooting for a long time. I like it because it’s something both (Evan) and I enjoy and can do together.”

While enjoyment, fellowship and competition were all part of the equation Friday, all the pink around Deep River was a constant reminder of why they were all there.

Founded in 2007 in the name of the former NC State women’s coach who fought a courageous, though losing battle against breast cancer, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund is dedicated to the fight against all forms of the disease that affect women.

To date, it has raised $5.63 million for scientific research and related projects, assisting the underserved and unifying people for a common cause.

Though the organization is national, it has had a significant impact locally through grants to UNC Rex Healthcare that paid for two mobile mammography units providing free screenings to uninsured or underinsured women across the state. The fund has also awarded $1 million to the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center for research on the effect of exercise in the treatment of cancer in aging women.

The father-son duo of Kevin and Evan Cates, far left, head to the range with members of their sporting clays team using baby strollers customized into shooting carts to carry their equipment. (Lauren Rose / North State Journal)

Stephanie Glance, Yow’s former assistant with the Wolfpack who now serves as CEO of the cancer fund, was among those addressing the participants before they headed out onto the course to compete.

She said that while Yow was not a shooter, she would have appreciated the effort those involved with the Clays4Kay event have made for her cause.

“This is just fabulous,” said Glance, herself decked out from head-to-toe in pink. “We’re out here in this beautiful setting and it’s such a great group of people that enjoy this sport.

“What makes it so neat is that Coach Yow was a person who spent her life uniting others. She would want everyone united in fighting women’s cancers, and this is just one more unique event that accomplishes that goal.”