Gun legend helps Texas City students master skeet shooting
Tom Estep, 76, is a legend among the people who frequent the Texas City Municipal Shooting Range.
“The way I look at it, I like to shoot guns and ride horses, and I have quite a few more years left to do that,” said Estep, who wears a cowboy hat and speaks with a deep, thick Texas drawl.
For years, Estep has been a private shooting instructor, helping people to earn their handgun licenses.
More recently, he added another title to his résumé — that of high school coach leading a skeet shooting team.
Texas City Mayor Matt Doyle for years had tried to get shooting sports back into the city’s schools.
About five years ago, Doyle’s efforts paid off.
“After a board meeting, Matt called and asked if I would help with a high school skeet shooting team,” Estep said. “I thought I would be advising the team, but I showed up and found out I was the coach.”
Doyle was fundamental in starting the program and continues to be a big supporter, said Brandon Noto, an agricultural science teacher and the Future Farmers of America adviser for Texas City High School.
In skeet shooting, students fire at a clay target thrown from a trap to simulate the flight of a bird.
A skeet shooting team, comprised of boys and girls, was formed at Texas City High School under the workings of the national Future Farmers of America organization.
“In order to be on the team, you have to be a member of FFA,” Noto said.
Since its inception, the team has averaged about 16 students each year, Estep said.
“I don’t think the kids at the high school know about it, since it’s all through FFA,” he said.
Estep and his fellow coaches also have had to go outside of the school for most of the team’s funding.
“What attracted me to coming to Texas City is I went to two events and I was blown away by the community support this program has,” Noto said. “The opportunities are endless, and I knew I’d be a fool to pass up that opportunity.”
Noto jokes that while Estep and his assistants handle most of the coaching — Noto only learned how to skeet shoot this year — he functions as the team’s chief financial officer.
“I go out and make sure we have the money to keep things going,” Noto said.
Each time the team has needed something, the community has been highly receptive, Estep said.
“The school bought us a gun safe,” Estep said. “Everything else has been through sponsors.”
Sponsors are especially important to the team because, without them, the students would have to foot the bill.
“There’s some financial support by the parents required if we can’t find a sponsor,” Estep said. “There are some kids who would love to be on the team, but just can’t afford it.”
Despite the difficulties, Estep swears by the importance of the sport.
“Every kid can’t play football or baseball or even soccer,” Estep said. “We need other sports, and shooting was the most popular one for a long time.”
For Estep, teaching kids to shoot guns is an important task — one he considers central to his life now.
“It’s just the responsibility of learning to shoot a gun,” he said. “In our sport, safety is extremely important. Shooting isn’t a physical, so much as a mental sport.”
Texas City’s skeet shooting team has ranked as high as sixth in the state of about 250 schools participating.
“Shooting is the fastest-growing sport across the nation,” Noto said.
With men like Estep helping to impart a passion for shooting, he hopes that trend will only continue, he said.