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Youngstown Country Club leads in skeet shooting tournament

Youngstown Country Club leads in skeet shooting tournament

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown Country Club’s skeet shooting team took a commanding lead Saturday in the annual Indigo tournament, and an Austintown local continued his defense for the top shooter trophy.

The Indigo Tournament is a five-club competition now in its 73rd year. Youngstown Country Club has had a skeet shooting club competition for more than 70 years, since 1952, but only joined the tournament in 1992, winning the championship for the first time last season. The other competitors are Mentor Harbor Yacht Club, The Country Club in Cleveland, Kirtland Country Club and the Hunting Valley Gun Club.

Youngstown is the last club to host this season and the tournament wraps up today.

Youngstown entered the day with a 9-shot lead in the Indigo, and last year’s “Top Gun” champion, Blake Benyo, 24, of Austintown, was tied for second place for the title with 140 shots made out of 150, along with Rebell Strollo.

The skeet shooting season is 32 weeks long, and spans the gap between the end of one golf season and the beginning of the next, so the country club has activities to offer all year round.

Youngstown Country Club is the only club in the Mahoning Valley that offers skeet and trap shooting.

The sky was overcast and rain fell lightly, but the conditions only buoyed the shooters’ spirits as YCC led off the competition.

“Wind and rain can affect the path of the (clay) bird, but the clouds are helpful because we’re not staring right into the sun when we’re shooting,” John Messenger, skeet chairman said.

Steve Anderson, another member of the team, said Youngstown’s course is the most challenging of the five because of the heavily wooded background.

Each team has 10 total members and they shoot in five-man squads. As a courtesy, the host team shoots first because the early morning sun usually presents a disadvantage, and also shoots last to accommodate the teams who are traveling.

Unlike classic target shooting, skeet shooting simulates bird hunting, and competitors need to be proficient in leading the target — shooting where it will go instead of where it is.

“It’s a lot like a quarterback throwing to his wide receiver,” Messenger said.

Each shooter took a total of 25 shots from eight different stations, beginning with clay pigeons that flew away from them and ending with birds that flew almost straight at them.

At the end of the first round, Youngstown’s opening squad had two shooters with perfect rounds, which earned them the right to ring the bell held by a metal likeness of Pete the Penguin outside the skeet club cabin. One shooter took 24, and two others hit 22 each.

Benyo was among the perfect shooters. He’s been part of the club for more than three years now.

“It’s really satisfying when you see that target break,” he said. “Everyone here is striving to be perfect, and it’s really a competition against yourself, just to keep being consistent.”

While it may be a competition — against oneself or one’s opponent — Rich Cameron said it’s also about friendship. Cameron, a Youngstown native, is this season’s referee and also the 1995 12-gauge World Champion, a title he won in San Antonio against competitors from at least 17 different countries.

For all his success, he’s happy just to be out on the shooting range with friends.

“It’s about camaraderie with the guys. I’ve got friends all over the world from this sport,” he said.

At the end of the day, Youngstown extended its lead to 23 shots, and Benyo moved into first place for the Top Gun award, with 190 shots made, followed closely by Strollo with 189.

Each shooter has 50 more shots to determine their final place in the competition when the tournament resumes this morning.

Have an interesting story to share? Contact Dan Pompili at dpompili@

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