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MOUNT WASHINGTON — The city’s two middle schools have recently hit a bulls eye with the creation of archery programs that allow students with all levels of athletic ability to participate.
Both Eastside Middle and Mount Washington Middle schools recently participated in the regional and state competitions, sponsored by the National Archery in the Schools Program.
Coaches of both teams said they have been very impressed with how successful their teams have been in short time periods.
Mount Washington Middle School
The Mount Washington Middle School Generals’ archery team was started in January by physical education teacher Justin Baird.
Baird said generous community contributions and support helped get the program off its feet.
Now 52 students participate in the program, which is split into a sixth-grade team and a seventh/eighth grade team.
“For a lot of the kids, this was their first time to touch a bow,” Baird said.
Even though the two teams were young, Baird had each compete in small tournaments that led up the recent regional and state competitions. The shooters practiced two to three times a week during the season.
Practice sessions included working to perfect shooting style. Baird said he encouraged students to imagine what they wanted their shot to look like.
And all that practice time paid off. Baird’s archers landed second place at the regional tournament — a satisfying accomplishment for a program that is less than six months old.
“That’s pretty good,” Baird said. “I was tickled.”
As a coach, Baird said he draws off of experience he gained while working for Mossy Oak brand camouflage in Mississippi. The company had an archery program in which he became very active.
Now he enjoys passing that experience on to MWMS students of all backgrounds and athletic abilities.
“It’s the fact that pretty much anybody can do it,” Baird said, explaining why archery is a unique sport. “The kid in the wheelchair can shoot.”
Archery has also instilled confidence in many of the children, he said.
“Going in we didn’t know how we would be. We didn’t expect to win anything,” he said. “I think (the children) walk around school feeling a little bit better about themselves knowing they’re good at something.”
Baird said next season he expected that his archers would continue to improve technically and become even more competitive. He said he wanted MWMS to host a tournament next season and hoped to involve even more children in the program.
Eastside Middle School
With 73 students participating and a bid to the national archery tournament, coach Jodi Grant is proud of the Eastside Eagles’ archery program.
2009 is the third year that Grant has headed up Eastside’s archers, with the help of assistant coach Mark Allan.
Grant said the hard work needed to get the program off its feet has reaped many benefits.
This year the school’s seventh/eighth-grade team placed first in its regional division and eleventh at state tournament, which won it a guaranteed bid to national competition in May. The sixth-grade team placed first in its regional division and twenty-third at state. The sixth grade team is a “bubble team” for national competition, meaning it could get instantly eliminated if too many other higher ranking teams show up to compete.
“I think it’s great,” Grant said. “They have just improved so much from the beginning.”
Grant said that although only 48 archers can compete at competitions, she didn’t eliminate anyone from the team this year because she wanted everyone to get a chance to participate.
“I’ve got some kids that just want to be involved in something. But some are very, very competitive,” she said.
On the seventh/eighth-grade team, Grant said team member McKenna Grant has excelled this year, along with Josh Milburn, Brian Leewe and Kristin Morris.
Outstanding archers on the sixth-grade team include Emily King, Marissa Eschman, Sam Lowe, Craig English and Austin Norris.
Morris said she has a goal that the team will one day win the national tournament.
“It would be nice if we could get a first place at nationals. I think we could if we really tried,” she said.
English said he thought everyone on the team struggled more with the 15 meter shoot because it was a long shot to make. He said the team would improve with more practice.
“We could practice a few more days a week,” English said.
Grant said her team is now preparing for the national tournament to be held at Freedom Hall in Louisville. No matter what happens at competitions, Grant said she is already proud of what her archers have accomplished.
Grant expects the team to grow more every year.
“I had no idea I would have this many kids,” she said. “It’s amazing. I’m bringing on (an average of) 20 additional kids every year.”
Grant said none of the program’s success would have been possible without the support of the Salt River Masonic Lodge and principal Bonita Franklin.