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By NATHANIEL YATES
For The News-Enterprise
The whistle blows, the students set their stance, nock their arrows, draw back their bows, aim carefully and release. It’s the typical scene at archery practice for some local students.
Last week, more than 70 Hardin County youth were preparing to compete in the 2013 National Archery in the Schools state championship, held today and Tuesday at Louisville’s International Convention Center.
North Hardin High School, West Hardin Middle School and St. James Regional Catholic School are among more than 150 schools competing. Additionally, two students from Central Hardin High School, Donald Alexander and Forrest Cooper, will compete, though not on a school team. Central Hardin hopes to organize a team next school year.
Twenty-four North Hardin students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, compete Tuesday.
They have been practicing all year, twice each week in the school’s smaller gymnasium.
Head coach John Donaldson has watched the team improve from day one and likes their chances at the state tournament.
“We always have to go in with a positive mind,” Donaldson said. “The team is shooting great and I think they can do really well at state.”
North Hardin freshman Travis Thompson is looking forward to the event. It is his first year on the team and he is proud of the progress he has made.
“The first time I ever picked up a bow was at tryouts early this year,” Thompson said. “I think I have improved quite a bit. I am ready for state.”
Todd Holbrook, a sophomore at North Hardin, is ready, too, but knows when he gets there it will take a lot to accomplish his goal, he said.
“State is loud, sometimes it can make shooting stressful and hard to concentrate,” Holbrook said. “My goal is to shoot a 260. I believe I can do it.”
A perfect score is 300.
St. James is sending 23 students to the competition: the middle school team and some elementary school students who will compete individually.
This is the first year the school has had an archery program.
“For this being our first year in the program our team has done extremely well. We have had several individuals stand out and get some top awards at tournaments,” said head coach Tim Williams.
St. James received a grant from the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) and a donation from the Knights of Columbus to fund and start the program. An archery camp last summer helped raise money to pay for equipment they needed. Williams rallied for the grant, and he really wanted this program to succeed.
“These guys really love what they are doing,” Williams said. “I was glad that program was able to come around. It has done really well.”
Rick Hahn, who coaches the West Hardin team and works with the Central Hardin students competing, said archery has “exploded.”
This year, tournament officials are expecting about 3,500 archers.
“The increase in the regional tournaments this year alone in some places is up 300 percent,” Hahn said, noting he’s pleased to see more student interest, in part, because college archery scholarships are going to waste.
“Everyone can play. You don’t have to be seven feet tall or weigh 300 pounds,” he said of the sport’s popularity. And everyone participates.
“There’s no bench-warming in archery,” he added.
Students said a variety of things attracted them to the sport.
“I like being with all of my friends for archery,” said St. James fifth-grader Grace Filburn said. “My dad hunts and does archery, and it was something I thought would be cool to do.”
Seventh-grader Luke Wiseman likes the competition of archery.
“I always strive to improve and compete with the best,” he said. “It feels good to know that you can compete with anyone.”
Along with the competition archery brings, it also has been a way for those involved to make friends. Mac Stoken, an eighth-grader at St. James has experienced this firsthand.
“I like how interactive archery is,” Stoken said. “I made a friend at one of the competitions and her mom even told Coach that I made her less nervous so she could shoot.”
St. James will take the floor of the state tournament today.
“I think it is kind of a big deal for a small school like St. James, from a small town to compete in such a big competition,” Stoken said.
Twenty-four students from West Hardin and Central Hardin students also compete today.
As archery now is a Kentucky High School Athletic Association sport activity, a high school boy, girl and team will be crowned KHSAA state champion for the first time this year, according to a news release.
Nathaniel Yates is a journalism student at the University of Kentucky.