Shooting for a great mitzvah project

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David Baugher

It was appropriate that James Fox’s Torah portion was on Noah. He could certainly identify with the famous Biblical figure.

“There was a huge thunderstorm the night before,” said James, a Rockwood Valley Middle School student who will enter the eighth grade this year. “We were sitting there at six in the morning praying that the rain would stop before nine. Water was leaking in. We thought it was going to be over.”

It cleared by eight and James’s bar mitzvah project, a shooting tournament for charity at Blackhawk Valley Hunt Club, was able to get underway. The tournament is indicative of the increasingly personalized nature that characterizes many bar and bat mitzvah projects. As projects revolve more and more around unique themes important to the child, they have also become more non-traditional. In James’ case, the project involved sporting clays, an activity that’s obscure even to some who shoot regularly. Described as “golf with a shotgun,” sporting clays is related to skeet shooting but with targets being tossed from differing angles and shot from various locations known as “stations.”

James, who has been hunter-certified in Missouri since age 11, was happy to introduce his friends to the activity.

“They thought it was pretty cool,” said the Wildwood resident. “I don’t know if they knew what sporting clays was before but they all had fun.”

Dozens of shooters participated in the tournament, which raised more than $5,700. After expenses about 70 percent of the proceeds went to James’s two charities, the Wild Canid Center, which helps wolves, and the Humane Society’s Longmeadow Rescue Ranch. Winners received money and prizes such as gift certificates to Cabela’s outdoor supply store while other hunting related items, from guns to a membership to the hunting club were auctioned or raffled. Promotional signs were made and sold to companies for $100 apiece to set up at each station.

The event even featured entertainment by trick shooter Travis Mears who did such stunts as shooting bags of flour, lacrosse balls and a series of 36 eggs thrown by two children in rapid succession.

“He tells two kids to throw the eggs as fast as they can and if one of them hits the ground they win,” recalled James’ father Rick. “It was a really fun show.”

According to Rick Fox, the most important ingredient to pulling off the ambitious project was finding the right focus for the youngster. Even the choice of animal-related charities was suited to fit the boy’s interests. The family, who attends United Hebrew Congregation, has about a dozen animals including horses, chickens, a dog and a rat. It turned out to be the perfect idea for James, who loves to hunt pheasant, quail and chucker and has been a member of the Lincoln County-based hunt club for some time.

“We were trying to think of something to do and you come up with the normal ones like the food pantry and things like that,” Rick Fox said. “We also wanted something he was passionate about. It was going to be the project probably with the most amount of work but he sounded ready for it.”

Still, Fox said that, like any good project, it opened his son’s eyes and taught him just how much effort was involved. James spent four months setting up the event doing everything from soliciting money to making signs for the stations to hand-addressing invitations.

“He said, ‘Man, I never realized how much work went into one of these charity things,'” recalled Rick Fox.

James seemed to sum up the most important lesson of the non-traditional bar mitzvah project. He still remembers his reaction when his father first talked about the idea but also how his view of the project evolved over time.

“I thought it sounded kind of strange but the more we worked on it, the more sense it made,” he said.