WORTHINGTON -- It wasn’t easy to get noticed in Alexandria earlier this month when the Class 7A high school clay target championships got under way.

The number of competitors was staggering.

Many of the entries were from the Worthington area -- 37 of them, in fact -- but they were just a drop in the bucket when weighed against the 996 registered shooters altogether.

“The competition was beyond stiff,” said one Worthington coach, Aaron Sieve.

And yet, there were several solid performances by Worthington-area varsity athletes. Zaydan Abdulrahman and Jacob Lenz both struck 94 targets out of 100, tying them for 49th place. Gage Freking, John Heidebrink, Logan Kluever and Jaime Ross all managed 93.

For Ross, it marked the first time ever getting 25 of 25 in a final round.

Maddie Voss, competing in the novice class (there are also varsity and junior varsity classes), tied for first place before losing in a tiebreaker. Last year was her first year with the local team.

“This is our largest for numbers,” said Sieve, who teams with Scott Oberloh to oversee the squad. “Last year we were in the 40s. And this year our total was 53 kids.”

All across the state, participation in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League is growing. From three teams and 30 students in 2008, there are now as many as 12,000 shooters and about 350 clubs, according to the League website.

There are now at least 20 states offering clay target shooting for high schoolers, and the sport is moving into the college ranks as well.

Minnesota West Community and Technical College, based in Worthington, started a team last year.

This season, the Worthington high school team finished third in a nine-team conference, and held down first place until the last two weeks.

Competing in clay shooting is easy. Competitors go to their local gun clubs and fire off their shots, and coaches send scores online to the league, where they are tabulated along with other teams around the state. Shooters can be a member of the clay shooting team while also participating on other prep teams.

“That’s one reason why it’s growing. There’s no travel involved. You just go to your local gun club,” Sieve said.

In this part of the state, hunting is popular. Hence, so is clay shooting.

“Our area, a lot of kids hunt,” Sieve pointed out. “(Clay team) is a way to be a better shooter.”