AUGUSTA — A dispute involving a popular youth shooting program has prompted four leaders of the Capitol City Rifle and Pistol Club to resign.

Mike Whitten, of Augusta, who was president of the club, said he and three of the other six club officers, who together make up the executive committee, resigned as a result of an ongoing disagreement about whether a youth program active for nearly four decades should be allowed to continue under its current management.

The Kennebec Shooting Sports Junior Program based at the club, meanwhile, remains active, and popular with both the participating youths and their parents, despite falling out of favor with the club members who resigned.

“They were trying to use scare tactics and bullying to end the youth program,” said Julian Beale, who has overseen the program for 38 years. “They were trying to get rid of me. I wish I knew why. If I did know that, maybe we could end up solving the problem.”

Beale said those within the club who had a problem with the youth program were a minority and he speculated that the dispute may have had to do with range time at the club.

Whitten resigned a week ago, as did the Capitol City Rifle and Pistol Club’s secretary, administrative and executive officer and chief instructor. Whitten said they sought to change the management of the youth shooting program because they and some members of the club had bad relations with leaders of the program, Beale included.

“The people that manage (the youth program) and the executive committee didn’t see eye to eye,” Whitten said. “We had trouble with them at the club — not with the kids, but with the management of the program.”

Lead concerns

Whitten also said he worried about young people potentially being exposed to lead at the club’s indoor range, where there were some concerns about lead being present. Whitten said tests for lead were taken at the club but he would not reveal the test results Friday, saying that should be discussed by the current club leadership.

“The lead tests go to the president and the club. I’m not going to comment on the results,” Whitten said. “But I wasn’t comfortable. The indoor range may not be safe (for youths) to shoot on. The liability is too great.”

Nate Wade, acting president of the club, and one of only two club officers who didn’t resign, said he had no comment on the club, youth program, or Whitten’s concerns about the potential for lead exposure at the indoor range. He said the club will meet Sunday to elect new officers, at which point whoever is elected president may comment.

Beale said the concerns about lead came after adult members of the club tested positive for lead. He said youth program participants were tested for lead and all their tests came back negative.

He said the lead issue was a scare tactic.

“It’s safe,” he said of youths using the indoor range where, he noted, the young shooters are not allowed down the range where the lead from slugs ends up. He also said parents of the youth program helped clean up the indoor range, and the club had a new ventilation system installed.

Mark Stevens of Oakland, whose 15-year-old son shoots in the youth program, said he’s one of the parents who helped clean up the indoor range. Both he and his son were tested for lead, and both came back with levels so low they weren’t even measurable.

Young shooters sound off

Parents and participants in the youth program say they love it.

“I’ve never seen my son as enthusiastic about something as this,” Stevens said. “Julian and the other coaches are not confrontational, they do it in a very professional and nurturing way. There’s no hostility. My son has benefited from the program and I’d hate to see it cease to be.”

A total of 44 youths between the ages of 10 and 19 from throughout the region are in the program.

It costs $95 to sign up, a cost the Beales said doesn’t cover what it costs the program, which provides the ammunition, targets and guns.

Brittany Hubert, 19, of Augusta, joined the youth program four years ago, and has since joined the Capitol City Rifle and Pistol Club as an adult. She shoots targets with a .22-caliber rifle and air rifle and pistol. She has twice qualified to go to the national Junior Olympics, where she placed ninth and 13th in the nation.

“It’s fun — it’s something you can do on your own or part of a team,” she said. “It’s relaxing. You go to that range and leave everything that’s weighing on your shoulders at the door.”

Robert Elliot, of Mount Vernon, said his son, Travis, who is now a senior in college, started shooting at the club through the program when he was around 11 years old. He reached the distinguished expert level, and competed in a national championship for air pistol. His daughter, Ashley, a junior at Maranacook Community High School, is also a member and won the state championship last year with a .22-caliber rifle.

“They’ve learned a lot of discipline, and it’s a sport you can do for a lifetime,” Elliot said. “Other sports, not everybody is cut out for them. My son wasn’t into team sports, but he is into hunting and archery. We saw this program and got him into it and it was great. The coaches are wonderful with the kids. And the kids make friends from other schools. It’s a shame to see this animosity.”

Getting along

Even Whitten, who said he plans to remain a member of the shooting club, acknowledged the youth program is a great program and said Beale is one of the best around.

“He may be the best, but if you don’t get along with the club that hosts you, you need different management,” Whitten said.

Whitten said he felt parents and other supporters of the youth program joined the shooting range club to bully the club leadership, and stacked club meetings to get their way on issues involving the youth program. He said the club has some 800 members and officers have to look out for what’s best for the entire club.

Beale’s wife, Brenda, is treasurer of Capitol City Rifle and Pistol Club and the only club officer remaining on the executive committee with Wade. She said the youth program has many supporters.

Beale, owner of Kennebec Guns, has a wall at the Augusta gun shop covered in plaques, certificates and accolades related to his 38 years of involvement in youth shooting activities. He said the youth shooting program has been recognized by the National Rifle Association and USA Shooting as one of the top youth programs in the country.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]