Team Terrebonne

From humble beginnings, this team of young shooters from “down da bayou” has grown to produce some of the finest marksmen in the state.

“I hope you get one just like you one day,” my mother used to scream at me as I was doing such harmless things as knocking over our mailbox with the front bumper as she reached out the window for the mail or shattering the bulb under the ceiling fan in my room with nunchucks that were spinning in rhythm to “Eye of the Tiger.” Kids, especially teenagers, just can’t seem to do anything right. At least that’s the message mouthed all around us as every new generation of “slackers” becomes what their parents’ parents warned them about.

All around us, though, there are kids who are doing some amazing things. Take the members of the Terrebonne Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) Shooting Team for example.

This group of teenagers from all over Terrebonne Parish competes in shooting and responsibility events that test skills and talents that way too many adults probably don’t even know exist, much less that need cultivating.

YHEC is a youth program of the National Rifle Association that teaches kids these skills through the assistance of a small army of volunteers who desire to see their kids stay connected to their hunting and shooting heritages. The program culminates with a state shooting competition in Woodworth each June followed by an international competition each July in Pennsylvania.

The Terrebonne Parish Junior Deputies Team is but one of several in Louisiana that meet at Woodworth each June for the state competition, which until last year had been dominated by the DeSoto Youth Sportsman’s Team.

DeSoto had to settle for second place last year, though, because the Terrebonne team rose to the challenge and took first in the Senior (15-18) Overall Teams category.

While the Terrebonne Junior Deputies Team shot their way first place at the state championship last year, that isn’t what makes this group of kids so impressive.

After spending some time with the members of the 2007 Terrebonne Junior Deputies Team at a recent practice event, I came away more impressed with their sense of responsibility and self discipline than I did their shooting skills, which are extremely good by the way.

“We were able to go up there and win because we practice a lot,” said seven-year team member Cory Cheramie of Houma, “and Mr. Jeff (DeBlieux, the team’s coach) keeps everything very organized. We practice a different event each week as we prepare for the state competition.”

The events for which Cheramie and his teammates must prepare are archery, muzzleloader, shotgun, .22 rifle, hunter responsibility exam, hunter safety trail, hunting orienteering skills and hunting wildlife Identification. DeBlieux said the kids enjoy the shooting events while at the same time understanding the importance of the responsibility events.

“Any tiebreakers in any of the shooting events are broken by the responsibility events,” said DeBlieux. “And the responsibility events teach so much good information that the kids really take to it anyway. Like the wildlife identification for example: These kids know every crane, duck and deer out there along with their tracks, fur and horns.”

DeBlieux also pointed out that the orienteering event test skills that many adults don’t have. Team members must be able to read a map and use that map along with a compass to maneuver through different scenarios.

“And the hunter safety trail is like the Hunter Education courses come to life,” DeBlieux added. “The kids have to walk a course full of different hunting situations, and they have to decide whether to shoot or not shoot. There may be a big buck sitting there, but at the wrong angle, and the kid would have to determine that it’s a no-shoot situation because it would be an unethical shot.”

To hear the members of the 2007 senior team talk about the YHEC program is akin to listening to a football coach give a pre-game speech about dedication, focus and hard work. Not one member gave the impression that he or she was in it just to have something to do to pass the time, and each spoke of commitment and confidence.

“It’s all in good fun, I say,” said Zach Lirette, a four-year team member who was a part of the championship senior team last year. “But it takes a lot of dedication and time on the part of each team member. There is a lot of effort that goes into this, and it’s a lot of work. But we all love doing this outdoor stuff, and this program promotes sportsmanship and safety.”

First-year team member Jerry Martin explained that there isn’t much difference between the school sports in which so many of these kids are involved and the YHEC because both revolve around the team concept.

“Just like baseball or football, we’re all working together to achieve a common goal,” he said. “Everything you learn from a school sport applies to this team because we’re all on the same team.”

Several members of the Terrebonne Junior Deputies Team attend Vandebilt Catholic in Houma, where they are involved in everything from football to the flag corps. And leadership lessons that are learned in their sports extend to the YHEC team.

Take Jacob Allen for instance. This five-year team member pitches for the Vandebilt baseball team and plays quarterback for the football team. Allen was a member of the first-place senior team last year, but he was also the overall individual winner of last year’s event.

“I didn’t do best in each event,” Allen explained, “but I finished high enough in each event to make me the overall winner. I think I do best in the shotgun station because it’s a sporting-clays kind of event, and it’s very much like shooting ducks or doves. For me, shotgun is a more realistic kind of event.”

While the Terrebonne Junior Deputies Team is full of good-ol’ South Louisiana boys who grew up hunting with their dads, the senior team also includes 15-year-old Amy Donaldson of Houma. Donaldson had the hot hand at the muzzleloader station this particular practice, and you could almost see the targets shake when she looked down her sights.

“I’ve been on the team for four years now,” she said. “I was on the junior team last year, and we finished the state competition in second place. I love the shotgun event because I go duck hunting a lot with my dad at Gibson, but I probably do best on the written test, which tests hunting skills and information like the Louisiana Hunter Education test does.”

Donaldson got involved with the team after some of her friends signed up. She decided she wanted to give it a try, and found out that the girls are just as competitive as the guys — if not more so.

“Girls can get on a team and have a great time,” she said. “If you’re already used to shooting a gun, it’s no problem at all. But if you haven’t ever shot before, I’d say to get something like a 20-guage and start practicing with it. Once you gain the confidence to handle that gun, go find a YHEC team and sign up.”

Laura Watson is one of the coaches on the Terrebonne Junior Deputies Team, and she would tell any mother reluctant to let their kids get involved with shooting that there isn’t anything to worry about.

“This program is based on safety,” said Watson. “For them to be involved here requires their time and effort, and the end result is a kid who is safer, more aware of their surroundings and is more confident.”

Watson went on to say that the YHEC attracts kids who are self-motivated and self-disciplined. Any kid who comes out on a “social call” usually doesn’t come back a second time after he or she sees the work involved. She believes that the kids who stay, though, should be considered the best of the best.

“All of these kids are extremely competitive,” said Watson. “But along with that competitiveness goes a large dose of organization and discipline. It takes a lot of effort on their parts to be able to balance this with school, ball and even parties. To do well, you’ve got to be able to study or go to bed while everybody else is going to a party.”

DeBlieux added that, considering these kids could be anywhere on a Saturday morning, the fact that they make it to the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office Shooting Range is proof positive of their commitment to the team.

“They love it,” he said. “I would guess that most of them are attracted by the shooting events at first, but they learn to love the entire program, and one day they’re going to bring their kids back to participate in the same program that they went through.”

In a world where guns are becoming an increasingly taboo subject, DeBlieux said he hasn’t received any resistance to the program. And word of mouth among parents and kids is more than enough to fill the team every year. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that all these kids are products of the Sportsman’s Paradise.

Many of the team members have grown up enjoying hunting with their parents or grandparents, and they see YHEC as a way to not only become a more responsible hunter, but to become a more effective one too.

Michael LeBlanc is a four-year member of the Terrebonne Junior Deputies Team, and he has been involved in hunting and shooting for as long as he can remember. Like many South Louisiana youth, he found himself out in the woods or in the blind while he was still in diapers.

“My favorite thing is duck hunting,” he said. “My family and I hunt around Lake DeCade, and we shoot a lot of ducks when they’re down here. We haven’t been very fortunate the past couple of years, though, because we haven’t had any ducks. We had a pretty decent first split last season, but we didn’t have any water or ducks during the second split. I think the fact that I’ve grown up duck hunting is why I like the shotgun event so much — it’s just like duck hunting.”

Some of the team members don’t hunt as much as others, though. Take senior team member Geoffrey Cobb. This is the second year on the team for the E.D. White sophomore, and his favorite event is the .22 rifle.

“My dad and I go out and shoot a little bit around the house every now and then,” he said, “but we don’t really go hunting that much. My grandfather actually got me involved with YHEC, and my sister is a member of the junior team.”

Family seems to be an important part of the YHEC program. Volunteer coaches and instructors see it as an opportunity to pass down something that is so important to them.

“My dad got started with this team about 14 years ago before I even had kids,” said DeBlieux. “I got my kids involved when they hit 10, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s my chance to spread the wealth of the outdoors to these kids.

“The main thing is hunter safety and how to handle a gun, but it fosters a total love of the outdoors that I know is going to stay with these kids for the rest of their lives. And when you can involve that with wildlife conservation and hunting ethics, you’ve got a win-win situation.”

I could see it in the eyes of the Terrebonne Junior Deputy Team members as I walked around talking to them that they didn’t want last year’s win to be a one-time thing. You could see their determination every time Donaldson destroyed the muzzleloader target, every time Lirette put an arrow in the fake turkey right next to the one he just shot, and every time Cobb knocked down a metal duck with a .22 round.

These kids want to win again, but more than that they want to succeed in everything they do. I could imagine any one of them being my own son or daughter, and the best thing I could tell them would be, “I hope you get one just like you one day.”

About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at