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Tue, Sept. 17

Prescott Valley skeet shooter on the cusp of competing at 2020 Summer Games

Joe Witty prepares to shoot at a clay pigeon during one of his rounds at the USAS National Championships from June 4-23 in Colorado Springs, Colo. If Witty performs well at the USAS Fall Selection/Olympic Trails Part 1 match in Kerrville, Texas, in September, he will qualify for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo. (Brian Witty/Courtesy)

Joe Witty prepares to shoot at a clay pigeon during one of his rounds at the USAS National Championships from June 4-23 in Colorado Springs, Colo. If Witty performs well at the USAS Fall Selection/Olympic Trails Part 1 match in Kerrville, Texas, in September, he will qualify for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo. (Brian Witty/Courtesy)

A little over a decade ago, Joe Witty of Prescott Valley would forage through the Midwest wilderness to hunt pigeons, quail and rabbit at the tender age of 10.

It’s an extreme hobby for the average child, but little did Witty know this pastime would quickly morph into an expertise that would have him on the brink of qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

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Skeet Shooter Joseph Witty of Prescott Valley shows off his medal he won at the USAS National Championships from June 4-23 in Colorado Springs, Colo., where placed sixth among some of the nation’s best. (Brian Witty/Courtesy)

Hunting was what piqued Witty’s interest in target shooting as he learned how to properly wield a firearm — more specifically, a shotgun — under the guidance of his grandfather. Witty’s passion for hunting eventually led him down a path that saw him join the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) youth hunters education program and then the Scholastic Clay Target Program.

The tipping point in Witty’s young career came soon enough when he joined the USA Shooting Jr. Olympic Program while in high school. This is where Witty found his niche, in particular with skeet shooting. He has since exceled at a number of competitions that have the 21-year-old on the verge of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.

“It’s a great position to be in. I never really completely thought that I would be in a position like this. It’s a real honor, but there is still a lot of work to do in between now and the next six months of competing,” Witty said. “There’s a lot of kids that come from big cities that are going out to these competitions, and then there’s little small-town kids like me. It’s a great opportunity to have those small-town kids like me just go out there and compete with all these other people that are all so skilled.”

Witty’s biggest feats up to this point include accompanying USA Shooting to the International Shooting Sports Federation’s World Cup in Acapulco, Mexico, at the end of March where he secured a minimum qualification score that made him eligible to contend for two quota positions at the Olympics. He then traveled to Colorado in June for the USA Shooting (USAS) National Championships where he shined once again, being the only non-Olympian and non-national team member to lock up a spot in the Open Men’s International Skeet division finals.

In the finals, Witty finished sixth overall and is now training twice a week — mainly at the Prescott Trap and Skeet Club and Ben Avery Clay Target Center — for the USAS Fall Selection/Olympic Trails Part 1 match in Kerrville, Texas, from Sept. 7-21. The top two male athletes in this two-part competition will qualify for the Olympics. This presents Witty with minimal room for error, but he said his past experiences are sure to help him put him over the top.

“I got to go out there [to Mexico] and just experience shooting on a world platform against other top shooters in the entire world, not just the U.S.A.,” Witty said. “And then going into Colorado and finishing sixth in the nation was pretty impressive for myself to just get that confidence boost behind me and knowing that I’m going into the Olympic trials to just try to compete for a spot on Team USA in such a high position and get myself ready for the future matches that are coming up here soon.”

On top of dealing with the pressures of qualifying for one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world, Witty also is dealing with the pressures of school, as the Bradshaw Mountain High School and Yavapai College graduate is currently working toward a business degree with an emphasis in finance and marketing at Arizona State University. Witty also works full-time at Sportsman’s Warehouse not only for his love of outdoors but to help his family pay the bills.

“Most of the time, what I’m doing is not a club or team sport through any of the colleges so trying to get a teacher to understand that you’re going to be gone for a week at a time, and missing their classes and their lectures, and then just completing all the assignments online with the little amount of notes you can get is difficult,” Witty said. “It’s definitely a balance … It’s a little bit of a struggle sometimes because you just have so much going on.”

While that might seem like a lot on his plate, Witty's determination never seems to waver, especially with the help of his father Brian Witty, who has played a huge role in his son’s journey.

“He’s been the main coach that I’ve been able to go out and practice with every single weekend,” Joseph said. “We’re pretty close, we travel together and there’s hardly ever any competitions that he doesn’t go to … He goes to just about everything. He’s my right-hand man.”

Brian is an outdoorsman himself and is Prescott Valley’s Parks and Recreation director. He said he couldn’t be any prouder of his son and his Olympic bid.

“It’s pretty exciting, especially since as a young man, it was one of his aspirations that could come to possible fruition, it’s pretty doggone exciting,” Brian said. “You always hope that whatever your child’s dreams is, they are willing to put in that effort and time to make them a reality … He’s dedicated himself to try to capture this opportunity.”

Whether he qualifies or not, Joe said this journey will serve as a great learning experience and will show him what he needs to work on to come back even stronger. For now, he will continue to train rigorously and every now and then, go back to where it all started by hunting on the rugged landscapes of Arizona; all in preparation for his most important hunt of all.

Aaron Valdez is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @Valaaron_94. Email avaldez@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2031.

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