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Hopkins archery aims for success

by Taylor Nye

When Hopkins County sports are mentioned, archery doesn’t usually spring to mind. However, the Hopkins 4H archery team has experienced explosive growth in 2021, and is ready to attack their upcoming season with gusto. 

“It’s a sport just like any other sport,” said Brad McCool, parent of team member Bryce McCool. “We’re not just an oddball hobby. There are sponsors and tournaments… archery is part of the Olympics.” 

The nine to eighteen year-olds under the tutelage of coach Stephanie Stewart certainly have as much discipline as Olympic hopefuls. 

Archery practice/ Photo by Abbi Beggs

HISTORY

Stewart has been coaching the team since 2010, when her son Geoffrey’s budding archery career began. After Geoffrey made it to State at San Antonio during his senior year in 2019, his mother made the decision to continue building the next generation of Hopkins County archers. 

However, enrollment dipped to three members during the pandemic, and some feared the team might shutter for good. In 2021, participants returned, and the team has a full roster of fourteen for the upcoming season. McCool credits this to Stewart’s policy of letting kids bring friends to practice so they can test drive the sport. 

“When the kids hit the target at 5, then 10, 15, then 20, [meters] and they see what it takes to win a plaque or a medal,… it builds their confidence up,” Stewart said. 

The team meets 2-3 nights a week and makes use of Stewart’s property, equipment and expertise.

“You’ll never hear her brag on herself, but we appreciate her so much,” McCool noted. “We’re so happy with everything she’s done with the program.” 

HUMBLE ROOTS

The Hopkins archery team is the first to admit they’re a bit hardscrabble. 

For instance, equipment and supplies for the booming sport are expensive. McCool said he was blown away to see “little, itty-bitty kids with thousand-dollar bows” when the team traveled to DFW-area competitions. 

It’s a stark contrast to the Hopkins team, who wears business casual to competitions as they cannot afford uniforms. The targets they use for shooting practice were bought already-used from the Archery Shooters Association, and to compensate Stewart has them “only use one side.” 

Once, a neighbor’s dog got ahold of a target and “ripped a good sized hole in it.” Stewart found herself shoving its stuffing back in and duct-taping it whole. At $40 apiece, the targets too expensive to replace.

Archery practice/ Photo by Abbi Beggs

Yet despite the lack of funds, the Hopkins team has the laser focus of an elite squad. Students put in hours of practice outside of meetings, and McCool noted that many parents have spent so much time on the range they decided to take up the sport alongside their kids. 

“It’s a really neat way to be able to participate together and spend time together,” McCool said, although he specified only kids compete at 4H competitions. 

LOOKING FORWARD

Stewart and McCool were both surprised by the team’s demographics this year– most new teammates are junior high girls. It makes sense to Stewart– she thinks local teens of both genders are yearning for ways to have good, clean fun. 

“There’s not a whole lot of good things for kids to do, besides at church,” she noted. “The future for our kids is going to be 4H, and we’re blessed that it’s not just showing animals. 4H involves cooking, making things, and shooting sports.” 

Stewart and the other parents make sure being part of the team isn’t just aiming a bow and arrow. The kids do community service, as well as demonstrations of their skills at Indian Summer Days and Heritage Christmas. 

Archery practice/ Photo by Abbi Beggs

They’re also working towards buying new equipment and maybe one day hosting a tournament of their own. It’s a lot of discipline, McCool noted. Through safety and cooperation, Stewart has confidence the team can accomplish anything. 

“It’s a responsibility environment, it’s a teamwork environment, it’s an environment where there are a lot of moving parts and we all have to be working together,” he said. 

That’s team member Bryce McCool’s favorite part, he said– traveling on the road, seeing new places, and hanging out with friends he’s made at practice. 

“Sure, they’re trying to win against each other, but they’re trying to help each other out,” McCool said. 

The archery season begins Dec. 1 and runs through June 7. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/1088746648536548

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