Isaac SmithMay 7, 2020 Updated 16 hrs ago

World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta
An aerial view of the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta.

PARTA — Southern Illinois lawmakers in an online news conference Thursday called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to allow the Amateur Trapshooting Association to host its annual championship at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta this summer.

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and State Rep. Nathan Reitz, R-Steeleville, spoke Thursday about the impact of the Grand American not just on Randolph County, but also on the region.

Schimpf reminded meeting attendees that the ATA is in a contract with the state of Illinois to host its yearly Grand American World Trapshooting Championship at the Sparta World Shooting and Recreational Complex. 2020 would be the 15th year for the competition in Sparta. It is currently scheduled for July 31 to Aug. 15.

However, with limitations on gatherings put in place by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to curb the spread of the sometimes deadly COVID-19 respiratory virus, the ATA’s ability to hold the contest this year has been put in doubt. Schimpf said the ATA has penned two letters to Pritzker’s office asking for a definitive yes or no to hold the event by June 15. Schimpf said the group has yet to hear a reply.

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“If Illinois does not give them permission … the ATA is still going to move forward with the event in a different state,” he said in his opening remarks Thursday. Schimpf, and others, said this likely would not be limited to just this year — if the ATA moved to another state for 2020, Schimpf said, they would likely not come back.

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“We ask that (Illinois Department of Natural Resources) and the (Pritzker) administration not only answer the questions being asked, but answer in the affirmative,” Bryant said.

Schimpf said the ATA has committed itself to observing social distancing. Mickey Stewart of The Great Outdoors Company — which has a shop inside the shooting complex — was on the call, and said the way the shooting competition is performed, there is already considerable social distancing. He said the event is held in squads of not more than five people all standing 9 feet apart to shoot.

Bryant said the event is not one happening soon, and given the governor’s recently announced reopening plan, the region could very well be in the advanced stages of that plan by the time the competition is scheduled to start.

Illinois’ southern region is currently at Stage 2 of 5 in the governor’s plan. At Stage 4, some gatherings start to resume, and at Stage 5, the state is completely reopened. In his announcement of the plan, Pritzker did not have a clear-cut timeline on when he expected regions to move through these recovery stages, but instead said they will be judged by a series of milestones for COVID-19 testing and deaths.

“I don’t think that it is impossible,” Bryant said of having the event.

The economics of losing the event could be huge. Chris Martin, coordinator for Randolph County economic development, said the city of Sparta alone sees double-digit sales tax boosts when the championship comes to town. Bryant and others said this impact is felt region-wide.

Schimpf said cancelling it could throw the state into the courts over a breach of contract with the ATA. But Schimpf and the others said they hope that can be avoided.

“We are happy to provide whatever support or information the administration needs when it’s making a decision about this,” Schimpf said.

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