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story.lead_photo.caption Photo by Sally Carroll Lillian Heithaus pulls her arrows out of the target at the end of practice. Students in grades five through eight meet after school at White Rock Elementary School twice a week to learn more about proper form and how to sharpen their shooting abilities in the White Rock Archery program.

Sometimes, thirteen-year-old Melysia McCrory pretends to be Katniss Everdeen when she practices shooting her bow.

The leading female character in the "Hunger Games," who is a quick expert with her bow and arrow, provides the inspiration for McCrory to aim and shoot well.

McCrory admits she's a good shot "most of the time" and has learned quite a bit since she's been a part of the White Rock Archery program for two years.

When she heard about the program, she asked her mom if she could join. Practices are held at White Rock Elementary School after classes are out for the day, and tournaments take place on the weekend.

"I live out in the country and I wanted to try something else (to do)," she said.

How does she focus when she prepares to shoot?

"I chew bubble gum," she said, "and I pretend to be Katniss."

Scott McCool finds the program challenging, yet fun. In his first year, he has learned more about archery.

"You get a new understanding of shooting," he said, adding that distance and the poundage on one's bow can determine accuracy.

Certified instructors Keith Jones, Graham Bunting and Taylor Walker are pretty adamant about using proper form, he said. The three are constantly providing feedback, which is constructive and helpful, he added.

McCool is interested in taking his competitive skills to the next level and anticipates competing in archery in high school.

For now, the 13-year-old finds archery a great outlet.

"It takes the stress off homework," he said. "A lot of people could be good at this without being athletic."

Keila Bailey's long-term goal is to take on mounted archery. Participants are challenged to hit a target while riding a horse. Bailey already knows how to ride a horse, and she's a pretty good shot.

The challenge of mounted archery appeals to her while she continues to hone her archery skills. The 10-year-old said she has learned how to keep her breathing under control while shooting. Jones has told her to breathe in, let out half of the air and then take a shot.

Learning to focus and breathe properly is just part of the art of archery she has enjoyed discovering.

"My friend said it was fun and I wanted to try it out for myself," she said.

The program builds confidence and allows each participant to really compete against him or herself, she said.

Though she's only participated in archery for one year, Bailey absolutely loves everything about it.

"I want to do this for my whole life," she said.

Success Stories

White Rock Archery meets every Tuesday and Thursday, during the season, to practice. Students meet in late October and conclude their season toward the end of March. Tournaments are held almost every Saturday.

Students in fifth through eighth grades participate. Next year, Jones anticipates expanding the program to fourth-graders as well.

In the five years since its inception, Jones and Bunting have seen children grow, learn and develop in a variety of ways.

One young girl involved in the program was very shy. Through the archery program, she developed more confidence in herself.

"She started busting out of her shell," Jones said.

Today, that same girl takes the stage in drama at the high school and recently wrote out her thoughts to be presented to the McDonald County School Board in support of the archery program.

"She's come a long way," Jones said.

Bunting tells of a young man who had trouble concentrating at school, had some behavioral problems and acted out frequently. Through archery, he's improved his focus and concentration immensely, Bunting said.

"It made him grow up," he said.

The student has settled down and doesn't cause problems anymore. Bunting contributes that to the skills he's learned in archery.

The program is based on the Missouri Department of Conservation's Archery in the Schools program. According to the Conservation's website, the Missouri National Archery in the Schools Program helps build stronger, more confident and accomplished kids. Jones and Bunting underwent Conservation training to become certified to teach archery. The new program was awarded a grant from the Conservation Department, which paid for half of the equipment, Jones said.

Bunting, who is from England, leans on his nearly 20 years of archery coaching experience there. Marriage brought him to the area from across the big pond. After he and his wife married, they discussed where they would live. He was from England; she was from America. The cost of living is much cheaper here than in England, and he decided to relocate here. He became an American citizen in 2013. Bunting works for the school district and volunteers his time -- like Jones and Walker -- to the archery cause.

Archery participants learn how to focus, which can help with schoolwork. Archery also builds self-confidence, especially for those students who do not excel at other sports, Bunting said.

Walker, who splits her time at Anderson Middle School and White Rock as an agriculture teacher, became qualified to coach archery because of her love for the sport.

Archery teaches problem-solving.

"It helps them think," she said, adding they have to weigh in the distance, how to aim and other factors to be successful to hit the bull's eye. "They have to think about their shot, what they would change. That helps them, and not just at school," she said. "It gives them an avenue, and a lifelong skill," she said.

Making sure that students have good form is critical, Jones said. He and the other instructors ensure the students develop the proper form and don't develop bad habits.

The program is strengthening and building a lot of depth for the future. Long-term, Jones looks to sponsors to help with the cost of tournaments. He also welcomes any contribution for purchasing more team equipment.

Not all students who participate join in the tournaments. Jones believes they'll develop a tournament team next year, which will help prepare them for the challenges of weekly tournaments.

Jones sees the participants grow and learn every day. He's seen character developed, confidence built and skill sets ramped up. The "thinking man's sport" is just the perfect combination of skills to help youngsters feel good about themselves, he said.

"Fred Bear said, 'Nothing clears a troubled mind better than shooting a bow,'" Jones said.

General News on 02/08/2018

Print Headline: Young Archers Hit Bull's Eye With Focus, Self-Confidence

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