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Wayland teen Connor Ball on target as a skeet shooter

Connor Ball.

Connor Ball.

Perfection is the name of this game.

While the best in the world can be successful 100 times out of 100, so too could a teenager who just picked up the sport.

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Paul Giambrone III won his first skeet-shooting world championship at age 16 back in 2001, becoming the youngest ever to win a title. Widely considered the best alive at aiming a shotgun at clay targets, he has captured 13 world championships, and makes a living out of competing in and teaching the sport to eager learners around the world.

But he thinks Connor Ball, an 18-year-old prodigy from Wayland who first held a gun two years ago, could beat him.

One of the rare competitors from New England in a sport that is often dominated by the southern regions of the country, Ball finished fourth in the 12-gauge shotgun competition at the 2013 Junior World Skeet Championship, held in San Antonio late last month.

“From a competitive standpoint, this is one of the very few sports where the average shooter can have a great day and run with Tiger and Phil,” Giambrone wrote in an e-mail from Canada, where he was teaching a clinic. In explaining his reference to Woods and Mickelson, two of professional golf’s top players, he added, “Meaning, the average person couldn’t play a round of golf with either of these guys, probably not even watch them in person, much less get into a playoff with them at a tournament.

“In skeet, you can do all of that. You can take a shooter that has the best day of his life and shoot a perfect 100 straight and get into the playoffs with the best in the sport and actually win.”

What kind of person is this sport made for?

“It’s anyone’s game,” Ball said. “A lot of the guys you’ll see shooting are heavy-set older guys. It’s a running joke that . . . some of the guys are trying to get the skeet-shooter physique – that big beer gut.”

The physical demands of lifting an eight-pound gun to the shoulder and enduring the mule-kick of the 12-gauge recoil provide the first challenge. But in 30 minutes of discussing his own learning experiences in a sport that forces a human to become best friends with a gun, Ball never mentioned the recoil.

The sport is assumed to be more challenging between the ears. Focus is the word that’s often used, and competitors will do anything to achieve it.

“You need to maintain laser-like focus throughout your events,” said Spencer Ball, Connor’s dad. “In skeet it’s a moving target — there’s not a lot of time you’re actually involved in shooting. If you really add up all the time you’re shooting at the target, or trying to shoot at the target, there’s not a lot of time. Just seconds at a time.

“But for those seconds, and the preparation for those seconds, you really have to be focused and committed. And have your mechanics correct.”

The shooter stands in front of his squad, typically a group of five, at a station somewhere around the circumference of a semicircle. On each end point of the semicircle rests a skeet-launching deck; the two decks known as the low house and the high house.

As the discs soar through the air they travel across the open face of the semicircle, reaching maximum height at a midpoint between the two houses.

At the ideal shooting time, the discs and rifle are about 63 feet apart, or roughly the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate on a baseball diamond.

A single round takes only a few seconds. The shooter steps up to the line, puts the gun against his or her shoulder and aims it toward one of the houses.

As a disc flies out from one end, the shooter’s gun trails the disc’s path until it reaches a point close to the middle. The shotgun blast explodes, but the shooter hasn’t a second or a jerky movement to spare. As soon as one shot is fired, the gun turns to the disc that was launched from the opposite house and unleashes another shot.

Two shots within seconds of each other. The accuracy must be perfect.

Ball started skeet shooting two years ago, and has hit 100 out of 100 targets on multiple occasions. He routinely averages 96 or better.

Ball was a solid hockey player at Wayland High, but his dad accurately noticed little passion in his son’s game.

During one visit from his grandfather, Bill, a former Massachusetts skeet-shooting champion, Connor was dragged to the Minute Man Sportsman Club in Burlington and given a chance to shoot at the easiest level of targets.

He took 75 shots and hit three.

Ball looked past the failure of his first outing and made some other observations. He loved the challenge, realizing it was something that could allow his fast-moving mind, and his attention deficit disorder, to be used as an advantage. His father has noticed a hyper-focus in Connor’s game.

Before every round, Ball drinks an Arizona Green Tea with ginseng and honey. He’s silent. And he’s accurate.

In a short period of time, Ball has become one of the few challengers from New England who has gained a reputation among the sport’s finest, competing in 10 major competitions over the summer and achieving AA or AAA status — the highest in the game — in every gun category.

He’ll attend Curry College this fall; he has no idea what he wants to study. More importantly, he’s not allowed to have his gun on campus.

His father will pick him up frequently and provide rides to the shooting club, where Connor can rediscover his magic and continue to work toward perfection in the sport that changed his life.

Try anything, is his story’s lesson.

“Connor will try anything new,” said Giambrone, “and trusts me that if it doesn’t work, we’ll find something that will.

“He’ll be as good as he wants to be.”

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at jasonmastrodonato @yahoo.com.
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