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BY official count there were 2,009 shotgun wizards wearing wide-peaked caps ganged up at Vandalia, during the last week of August. They somehow managed to break into bits more than a million black, pancake-shaped birds with yellow domes, known as clay pigeons. It all added up to trap-shooting's Grand American Handicap Tournament, a real dilly of a shoot, the biggest yet held.
Out of those 2,009 earnest competitors there was one sighting in for stakes a lot more important than just the cool cash involved ($4,800 in prizes and bets that went to the winner). This special one was a 13-year-old shooter named Johnny Lilly, from a town in central Michigan called Stanton.
A NAME WITH A REPUTATION
To get the pitch on what was chasing around in Johnny's mind that August afternoon, you've first got to know about his father and grandfather.
Johnny's father is Ned Lilly. In the trapshooting world, that compares with the name Ted Williams in baseball. Ned Lilly is still rated among the five greatest trapshooters in the world. And Johnny's grandfather, Dr. I.S. Lilly, already made the family name mean quite a lot before Ned ever came along. Between Johnny's father and grandfather, the name Lilly has a reputation in Vandalia.
But this is '54 and time marches on. Now, it's Johnny's turn. It's the first time he's ever been in this high-pressure national hassle. Nor has he had too much experience other places either.
He broke 97 at the Wisconsin State shoot this past summer, became Michigan State Junior Champ by breaking 94 and won the Central Zone Championship with 91. All this moved him up from Class D to Class B (his father is Class AA, 96 average, shooting from a 25-yard handicap, otherwise known as "the back yard").
Now he's sitting in a canvas-back chair under the canopy outside his grandfather's trailer. Sitting around Johnny are his father, his grandfather, his older cousin and a family friend.
Johnny leans back in the chair. "What squad's up now?" he asks.