By Marion Valanoski
For The Daily Item
ELYSBURG -- Long before the very first shot is taken during the Keystone Open in May right on through the Pennsylvania Zone Shoots in September, preparations are taken to ensure that every trapshooting participant from first-time shooter right down to World Class participants are provided with the best possible environment while displaying their vast array of skills.
This is no easy task and does not happen overnight but rather is entrusted to a small army of well-trained workers pointed in the same direction and with the same goal: make this year's event as good as or better than the previous one.
After the two-day Colonial Classic on Saturday and Sunday, the 122nd Pennsylvania State Shoot got underway Monday at the Valley Gun and Country Club. The event showcases some of the best trapshooters from throughout the United States and the world with the possibility of more than 2,000 shooters participating in this year's event. It brings together a "Who's Who of Trap Shooters" to the spacious grounds and it's no secret why.
"We have the reputation of having the best-run shoot in the country," tournament director Charles Fritzges, of Milton, said. "Shooters talk to each other and they know where the good shoots are and where to go and it's a pleasure and credit to everyone who works here for the accolades our events receive from the participants that go beyond the borders of Pennsylvania."
Playing an integral role in the success of the shoots and, in most cases, behind the scenes like a director of a movie, are Dan Grecsak and his assistant, Dick LaRoche. They are the trap mechanics, and are usually preparing for the initial event months before the action gets underway.
They maintain all 53 traps in Elysburg, which holds the second-largest state shoot in the country behind Vandalia, Ohio, Their professionalism and know-how are just a couple of reasons shooters flock to the Pennsylvania state shoot, which continues to grow in popularity and attract the top names in the world.
"We try to start April 1 or the closest to that date possible," Grecsak said. "Putting it in simple terms we check over every part of the trap house right from the carousel, which holds the targets, right down to each and every moveable part associated with the working of the trap. We vacuum everything to make sure there is no dust or loose particles which eventually could become a problem.
"We check everything to make sure no parts are loose and grease and lubricate all areas that require that type of attention and we perform these tasks on each of our traps, and when that is finally done we go back to the first trap and repeat the entire process again."
The entire cleaning and repairing process could take as little as one hour, or if there are any necessary major repairs, the time could increase depending upon what needs to be repaired and if ordering parts need to be figured into the repairs. However, much of what is needed is already on the premises and in stock.
Once the traps have been the gone over the second time they are all individually tested to make the sure the speed is right. This is accomplished through the use of a radar gun.
"We must be sure the speed of the targets coming out is right and consistent for the event," Grecsak said. "It's important that they are leveling out correctly. You want the targets to come out flat so the shooters can see the back of the bird.
"The day before the event, we radar the traps again and make sure they are at the proper speed (42-43 mph for singles and between 39-40 for doubles) and the speeds are checked every day of the shoot."
Before even the first targets are loaded into the traps, all the electronics are inserted and checked to make sure everything is working properly electronically. Then, once the brain (computer) is inserted, everything from the microphones to the carousels that house the targets must be thoroughly checked, looking for anything from visibly broken wires to computer components that may or may not be functioning properly.
"I hate rainy days because they can play havoc with electronics," Grecsak said. "One of our biggest problems is with the speakers and the wires attached to them. They easily break when being moved by the shooters who either want the speaker at his or her right or left."
Grecsak, who lives near Danville, has been on the job at the club grounds for 10 years. He has dealt with the usual spring breaks and loose gears throughout a shoot but can happily say has not had to deal with a major incident with the traps at the club, which are 13 years old and appear to be like fine wine getting better with age.
Why are the Pennsylvania shoots so attractive? It starts with the quality of the grounds where the club is located and the professionalism exhibited from the workers in the trap houses and the scorers right on through the ever-smiling cafeteria workers.
There are 22 total days of shooting associated with the five shoots this year and the more than 90 high school and college students who work the events are put through an extensive six-week training regimen. That starts with the basics of what trapshooting is about right through working a pre-planned or exhibition shoot to provide actual practice for the individuals who will be sitting in those traps or keeping score to name just a few of the responsibilities of the workers.
"We teach our students all that there is to know about the job and I don't know if there is another organization in the country that invests the time and effort in this type of training, which is why shooters offer nothing but praise for how well our shoots are organized and run. That does not come by accident, but from hard work and dedicated individuals who take pride in what they are doing," Grecsak said.
Fritzges, who has been tournament director since 1997, could not have summed up better what Grecsak and his two-man team means to the success of the shoots held in Elysburg each year, "If the traps don't work, we don't have a shoot."
After the final event in September, Grecsak and his staff will take out all of the targets and electronic equipment, vacuum every trap, attempting to pick up all the dust and any loose particles before covering each housing with plastic until needed next season.
"There are two of us maintaining the traps and it does take time but our work shows up throughout the shoot because we rarely have a major breakdown," Grecsak said.
"If I'm sitting down and watching the shoot and Chuck walks by smiling it means he's happy and everything is going well."