Local News

January 10, 2014

Cohutta students blazing trail for new archery program

Teachers hoping for middle school expansion

COHUTTA — Move over, Katniss Everdeen. You’ve got competition.

Sure. They may be shorter than the bow-wielding heroine of “The Hunger Games” series, but several Cohutta Elementary School students can hit a bull’s-eye from 15 meters away, some sporting a hair braid made popular by actress Jennifer Lawrence who plays Katniss in the “Hunger Games” movies.

“It takes a lot of practice to get to a bull’s-eye,” Kendall Billadeau, 11, said. “It feels really good to get one. ... I’ve seen all the ‘Hunger Games’ movies. That’s why archery is cool now.”

Don’t worry, parents. These students aren’t going into a kill-or-be-killed arena anytime soon. They’re more focused on winning games based on accuracy, not lethality.

Roughly 20 students are planning to meet after school in the gym four times a week this school year to perfect their skills. School officials said some of the students will be the first in the history of the school to compete in an elementary regional tournament this spring.

“I think, yeah, I’ll go to a tournament one day,” John Kenneth Walters, 9, said. “Yeah, I think I will.”

John, who is proud of his first bull’s-eye, said archery is “just really exciting” and the best part of school.

Naomi Duicus, a teacher who helps in the program, said several students who might normally be shy are starting to blossom socially as a result of archery.

“It’s really for kids who aren’t involved in other things, other sports,” she said. “I’ve seen an excitement in the kids. And I think it ultimately is reflected in their grades. They want to come to school and are a little bit more motivated in the day because they have something to look forward to.”

Timothy Johnson, 10, doesn’t just look forward to archery in school. He takes it home.

“I always, every day, when we aren’t coming to archery in school, practice,” he said. “Me and my brother are practicing out in our backyard.”

“A lot of people are trying their best to get as good as they can be,” Kendall added.

The program wouldn’t exist, several teachers said, if it wasn’t for teacher Kyle Holcomb who researched grants from the state Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Holcomb received roughly $3,000 in grant money from those organizations to cover the cost for bows, arrows and practice targets, he said.

He said he’s glad to see students learning responsibility and poise.

“It’s an individual sport, and some of the students, you know, may not excel in (group settings) like other sports or in the classroom,” he said. “But they can really pick up a bow and shoot as good or better than anyone else.”

The program was inspired by Woodlawn Elementary School in Murray County which received several top honors at the 2013 National Archery in the Schools Program World Championship, including breaking the overall team score world record.

Archery coach Brad Bates with Woodlawn has visited Cohutta’s gym several times to give teachers some pointers on how they can grow the program, Holcomb said.

Jennifer McCracken, the physical education teacher at Cohutta, is hoping Whitfield County middle schools will get involved so students can keep up with the sport after they graduate from Cohutta. Cohutta and Southeast Whitfield High School are the only schools currently offering archery programs, school officials said.

“A lot of these fifth-graders really like archery,” McCracken said. “This could be something they could do in the middle schools if the middle schools get on board and get interested in it.”

“We’re just begging for the middle schools to get on board,” Holcomb said. “There’s grants available. It’s just up to the PE teachers to be on board with it.”

Timothy said he isn’t too worried about losing archery when he moves on to middle school because he’s already bought his own equipment for personal use. He said there are going to be plenty of weekends when he pretends to be the heroic outlaw Flynn Rider from “Tangled,” the 2010 Disney re-imagining of the Rapunzel story.

“Whenever that guy was climbing into (Rapunzel’s tower) he had arrows with him,” Timothy said. “That’s probably why archery is cool. But I’d have to say that my favorite part of school is coming to the gym and just being able to see all my friends and getting to shoot.”

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