HAHIRA – Archery is taught in 47 different states across the country and is the new sport on the rise in Georgia. The sport is young in Georgia and not usually taught in public schools. Hahira Middle School started teaching archery in 2006 as part of the Physical Education curriculum and partnered with The National Archery in Schools Program (NASP), the organization that controls the school programs nationally. Schools register through NASP which offers the schools grants for equipment and access to begin teaching archery as a part of the curriculum.
“We didn’t know anything about archery before we started teaching it in class,” said Wendy Newman, PE Teacher and Coach at Hahira Middle School.
Former Principal Kip McLeod approached the PE department about teaching archery. Everyone was on board with teaching it, but the problem was no one in the department could shoot. All the teachers in the PE department had to go through an instructor program to get certified. Now, HMS holds the instructor program every year giving coaches and community members a chance to learn more about the sport. This course helps anyone wanting to work with the students gain NASP certification.
Once everyone in the department gained certification, the starter pack of equipment arrived. The grant from NASP gave Hahira Middle School a set of five bows and five targets. The instructor’s course was the first time teachers were exposed to the sport, so it’s easy to relate to the students.
“I tell them, look I’ve been right where you are. I was scared to death to let it fly the first time,” said Newman.
The purpose of the archery program is to improve attendance, behavior, and grades. Archery has a lot of positives and it gives the kids a sense of belonging. They begin to make friends and gain confidence. The coaches teach the techniques of archery, but it’s the mental things they have to figure out on their own. Like any other sport, it’s more mental than the physical.
“Archery is for everyone, small or large, shy or outgoing. My daughter was shy and quiet, but it brought her out her shell. The sport introduced her to a new activity and built her confidence 110%,” said HMS Archery team parent Larry Raines.
The popularity of the archery program has become more than shooting in the gym for some students. They want to compete in competitions to test their skills and see their hard work has paid off. After teaching archery for six years, HMS decided to compete in tournaments. However, the kids still had to try out to be a part of the team.
“Tryouts have changed since our first time having a tryout, which lasted a day. Our kids have to shoot in at least three tournaments, and then we take an average of their scores for them to be on the team. It shows a little more commitment to it,” said Newman.
Archery practice is early in the morning before school at 7:00 a.m., three days a week. It’s open gym; giving the kids a chance to shoot for an hour before school starts. The kids are waiting eagerly for the gym doors to open. The number of students outside the doors every morning shows the commitment they have for getting better.
“I’ve coached softball, basketball, golf and other sports. These are not those type of kids; these are kids that don’t fit in. They don’t have a connection to a lot of other things in the schools. We tell the teacher you won’t know the archery kids are sitting in your classroom because they are quiet kids. They are a unique group,” said Newman.
Archery is a year-long sport. Regionals begin in mid-January, which is the first team competition of the season. Then in March, the State competition begins. In May before school is out for the summer, the athletes compete in Nationals. The team is still hard at work during the summer because Worlds are in June or July depending on when NASP sets the date. Instructions begin when school starts in August and competitions start in September. Typically, there is one or two tournaments a month scheduled.
Over the years the archery team has become phenomenal. They went to Nationals three years in a row, in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Each year HMS has moved up the ladder at Nationals finally coming in fourth in 2018. The only qualification for Nationals is for students to score in the 300’s. The students at HMS have their own set of rules to qualify for Nationals. They have to reach their personal goal of placing top three at State or break a school record.
“We went to Nationals because the kids broke a personal record every year. It shows that the kids on the team are super committed,” said Newman.
HMS can celebrate because they are back to back state champions in 2017 and 2018 in 3D shooting. This type of shooting is different than bullseye shooting because they shoot life-size animal targets.
Students often continue to shoot in high school because they fell in love with archery. Tiffani Pagola, a student at Lowndes County High School, continued competing because she knew archery would open doors. She now ranks top five in the state, and she doesn’t plan to let up.
“I’m hoping to use archery as a chance to get a scholarship for college. It keeps me focused and determined to stay on track, so I don’t lose my place on the team,” said Pagola.
Hahira Middle School is working hard to get better each year. Placing archery into the PE curriculum has built confidence, friendship and happiness for the students.
“It’s incredible to see how the kids transform over the course of a year,” said Newman.