PHOTO: Logan Balsley, 18, hits a clay target at the National SCTP Championships in Ohio. / Submitted
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Logan Balsley, an 18-year-old home schooled senior living in Spring Hill, will be headed to the Junior National Olympics in Colorado after placing first in the 18 – 20 age division in Wobble Trap in the Tennessee Junior Olympics last Saturday.
He is also a member of the Spring Hill Clay Target Team, a local athletic club that specializes in trap, skeet, sporting clays and rifle and pistol shooting.
Held at the Maury County Gun Club in Columbia, the competition last weekend saw none other than former-alderman Chad Whittenburg, a longtime fan and coach of trap shooting, help manage the event. Holding competitions for both trap and skeet shooting, each competitor took their shot at hitting as many targets out of 125.
Out of the 125 targets launched in front of him, Balsley would hit 102, netting him first in his age bracket, and the second overall highest score at the event. His next stop will now be the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where if he performs well enough, could even compete in the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France.
While Balsley has been an avid Boy Scout for years, currently holding the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest achievement attainable in the Scouts BSA program, it wouldn’t be until a chance encounter in 2016 that would see him try his hand at shooting for the first time.
Balsley’s father, Michael Balsley, would often take his son to the Boxwell Reservation, a popular campsite for Scouts in Middle Tennessee. One day, when Balsley was at the campsite, a Boxwell staff member known as “Shotgun” told him that he “looked like a shooter,” and invited him to go shooting. Balsley accepted, and said he instantly fell in love with the sport.
“It was a thrill, I grew to love it after the first shot,” he said. “It’s just a getaway – it’s a thrill, and it’s just exhilarating. I think with any sport you have to get into a competitive mindset to where the only thing that exists in the world is what you’re doing and what your goal is. To shoot, it’s almost meditating, because you have to clear your mind of absolutely everything in order to just say one word, and then act.”
Later, Balsley’s father would invite his son to visit the Charlie Haffner gun range in Spring Hill for a round of shooting, who at this point, had assumed this would be his son’s first experience with a gun. It was only after Balsley struck target after target without missing a beat that Balsley’s father started to suspect this wasn’t his first rodeo.
“I took [Balsley] over and started throwing some clays, and he starts hitting them – first shot,” Michael Balsley said. “So I threw five of them, and he hit every one. I put down everything I had and I turned around and said… ‘what.’ He said ‘well, I meant to tell you, but last summer I shot all summer with a shotgun.’ So from then on, he’s [been] really good.”
It would be from here that Balsley’s new interest would become a newfound passion. Soon after, he joined the Spring Hill Clay Target Team, and would practice for hours on end. Honing in on his skills, he would pass the Marksman Qualification Program in 2018, becoming a certified a Distinguished Expert with the NRA, and also be awarded the Hot Shot Award from the Boy Scouts of America that same year.
Looking back at his first days of shooting competitively, Balsley said he was humbled to think back to his original goals he had set for himself.
“When I first joined the team, they had all the new athletes write down their goals and their ambitions for the coming year,” Balsley said. “I had a new gun, never shot competitively, and so I wrote down hit my first 25 straight – which is hit all targets out of 25 – and then place in a competition.”
Balsley said there was nothing else quite like shooting to him in the world, and that through months of practice, he had been able to improve his techniques greatly.
“To give an idea of how your mind has to be… you can’t even think about moving the gun – it’s instinctive, purely instinctive,” Balsley said. “You can’t anticipate because if you say pull and you think it’s going to go left and it goes the other way, it’s gone, because if you move the gun the wrong way it’s gone.”
Balsley’s father, who had been a figure skater and coach for over 35 years, said he couldn’t be prouder of his son’s accomplishments, and has been supportive of his new passion every step of the way.
“I’m really proud of him,” Michael Balsley said. “He’s an accomplished athlete that’s been able to stay focused, dedicated and committed. God really is behind all of this – we pray every morning before he shoots.”
Not even a week after his victory, shoulder still sore, Balsley said he’s ready to get back to training for what looks to be his greatest challenge yet. And if things go well for him this June in the Junior Olympics, Balsley could be on his way to Paris in 2024, representing Spring Hill on the world stage.
“The first time I got into shooting, I was not focused on the wins, I was focused on the fun, and that’s all that matters really,” Balsley said. “As long as you’re having fun, it’s worth it, but when it’s not fun, you should be done.”