By Kerrin Brinkman | July 25 2011 11:07

Last night the Coors Building at the NRA Whittington Center here in Raton, New Mexico was packed to the gills as competitors, coaches, family, guests, volunteers, and staff gathered to celebrate the start of the 26th Annual NRA International Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC)

The ceremony began with Bob Davis, Manager of NRA's Hunter Services Department, announcing each state as competitors entered the building carrying their state flag. According to Davis, there are 296 competitors, 77 coaches, and 46 teams from 17 different states, spanning from New York to Utah. 

Orienteering Event Director Bill Bower delivered the invocation, reminding all in attendance to marvel at the scenery and mountains that God has created, while asking the Lord to help coaches guide their competitors, and to watch over the young people who are carrying on the tradition of hunting here in America. 

Wayne Armacost, Executive Director of the NRA Whittington Center addressed the crowd next, saying: "It's an honor to have YHEC here again this year. We always look forward to having you all come to New Mexico."

Armacost also urged the youth to continue to exercise their rights and freedoms as Americans, adding: "The future of our country is sitting right here, and we're proud to have you here at the NRA Whittington Center."

Past NRA President Ron Schmeits was next at the podium, telling the crowd "YHEC represents the best of the best. I've met some of the finest young men and women here at YHEC."

Next to speak was Dave Butz, NRA Board of Directors Member, former NFL Player and two-time Super Bowl Champion. No stranger to competition, Butz spoke to the youth about being a good competitor. "Congratulations on getting here, now is your chance to shine. Help your fellow competitors by giving them advice and pick them up when they're down as they would do for you."

After Bob Davis introduce the YHEC Event Directors and NRA staff, he presented two awards. One was presented to the Raton Chamber of Commerce and was accepted by Schmeits, who also happens to be a Raton resident and President of a local bank. The second award was given to the NRA Whittington Center in appreciation for their help and was accepted by Armacost. Davis also thanked major YHEC sponsors MidwayUSA and Cabela's for their generous support.

The competition officially begins this morning, so stay tuned for more from the 2011 NRA International YHEC here at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico.  

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