Ainsley Harrington aims for top-gun skills

The SAA Shooting Stars Trap Team had a strong showing in the 2017 Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) National Championships. PICTURED: From left are Ainsley Harrington, Allison Raney, Sydney Shirley, Alexandria Ferrante, Emma Elder, Grace Franklin and Hannah Roberts. SAA sophomore Ainsley Harrington dominated the season, winning every ladies’ JV tournament. She captured the SCTP Regional and State titles, and the team advanced to Nationals, where Ainsley repeated as the champion of Ladies JV Handicap. Courtesy photo.
Ainsley Harrington has worked hard to polish her shooting skills. Courtesy photo.

Trap shooting was an immediate attraction for Bartlett teen Ainsley Harrington. It all began when she spotted an ad at the bottom of her school’s athletic newsletter.

She practiced shooting at a target with a team gun at first. “And I hit it and I thought, ‘Oh, I want to do that again!’”

She laughed and added, “And it happened over and over again. It’s a good addiction.”

After four years of blowing clay pigeons out of the sky, she placed second in the Tennessee Junior Olympics on April 21-22 for “international wobble.” (This is a type of competitive shooting at clay targets. The trap machine that shoots out the target wobbles up and down as well as side to side, making the target’s position more variable.)

Her goal at the April event was to shoot at least an 80 to qualify for the National Junior Olympics Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., on June 24-26. She did even better, shooting an 84 and placing second, despite pounding rain and high winds on the last day of competition.

That takes talent, but it also takes sustained effort. Ainsley, who is almost 16 and a rising junior at St. Agnes Academy in Memphis, practices daily. It may be on the range with her Krieghoff rifle, or it may be mental practice or strengthening exercises.

Skilled shooting is a true discipline.

“It takes time, so it takes patience,” she said. “But as long as you have patience, there’s no stopping or holding you back.”

She explained, “It’s taken me four years to get to the skill level that I’m at and to accomplish different mental aspects of the game – and to challenge my physical limits and strength-wise. And to see how far I can push myself mentally to strive for my goals.”

Her mother, Lori Harrington, drew parallels with competitive golf, which requires players to have the right focus and be in the right place mentally. Trap shooting is not like soccer or basketball, where the athlete can come out of the game for a few minutes to rest. It’s full concentration for an hour or more at a time.

Ainsley said the mental game is so important. “You have to be conscious of yourself and what you’re doing and how you’re breathing and what the weather is like. But you also have to be conscious of those around you. Safety is the utmost important thing – but keeping that in mind while so many other different things are going on is so difficult. That’s why it’s prudent – very important – to maintain a good mental state of mind.”

Her success on the range has also boosted her academic drive. It’s not just the requirement to maintain a good grade-point average in order to play the support. It’s also a matter of accomplishing something difficult in one arena and having the faith and drive to achieve in her studies too.

“I know I can do it,” she said. “I’ve pushed myself so far in my sport that there’s no way I shouldn’t be able to do it academically.”

Her mother said she’s seen that drive in action, as well as the development of Ainsley’s leadership skills. Ainsley has often been picked as squad leader, the go-to person for safe practices, problem resolution and other team needs like ear and eye protection.

Both Ainsley and her mom said they love the sport’s camaraderie among the teams and coaches at the local, state and national levels. They have made friends in numerous states from California to Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida and many places in between.

Ainsley added, “It’s a lot of good food, a lot of good people, and there’s not a better place to be.”

Her mother said, “We look forward to the competitions so we can catch up with the people we haven’t seen in a while.“

The male-dominated sport is empowering for girls, according to Mrs. Harrington. “It gives the girls, I think, a lot of strength of character and confidence to communicate and to stand up for each other.“

Ainsley added, “And willpower. It makes you have a higher head on your shoulders. Not in cockiness, but in confidence.“

CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to