DALZELL - The Thomas Sumter Academy archery team is only in its third season of competition, but already has notched two SCISA state championships and will be competing in the National Archery in the Schools Program's state tournament at the Sumter …
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DALZELL - The Thomas Sumter Academy archery team is only in its third season of competition, but already has notched two SCISA state championships and will be competing in the National Archery in the Schools Program's state tournament at the Sumter County Civic Center March 27-29.
Archery coach Mac McLeod said it's hard to lower expectations after enjoying that kind of quick success.
"After winning the state championship our second year, and then again this year, it's kind of hard to step back from that and we want to just keep shooting higher," said McLeod.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which sponsors the NASP program in South Carolina by donating 12 bows, targets and arrows, requires that the equipment be used as part of an academic curriculum. McLeod fulfills that requirement by teaching a unit on archery in his General Skills class, which also teaches students basics of survival like woodworking, gardening, automobile maintenance, first aid and personal finance.
"Last year we went into the NASP tournament here in Sumter ranked 15th and finished 10th overall with the high school team," McLeod said. "This year, we're going in ranked 12th. If we can move up to top seventh or eighth this year, just improving on last year, that would be a goal, and I've got some individuals that are shooting really well. I look for Tyler (Singletary) to finish in the top three in the state and win some scholarship money."
Singletary wouldn't be the first from TSA to make the sport work for him academically. Last year's team leader, Kyle Decker, now shoots for Emmanuel College in north Georgia, becoming the first archer in the state to receive an archery scholarship.
McLeod explained that the SCISA championship is determined among member schools within a larger regional competition. Thomas Sumter is a part of Region 2.
"There are public schools, private schools, and home schoolers, and within that, the SCISA schools compete against each other as well as with the other schools," McLeod said. Thomas Sumter is the only local school that competes in NASP tournaments, despite sponsorship by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources that provides complete competitive packages for schools interested in competing.
"You go through a class with them on safety rules, the use of the equipment and setting up a range to be certified," McLeod said. "After doing that, they give the schools 12 bows, a rack, targets and arrows to get started. After that you have to buy your own, but we did that and that's how we got started three years ago."
Thomas Sumter has teams at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. Each team can have up to 22 archers, and in tournaments, the top 12 count and four of those have to be from the opposite sex.
McLeod said he didn't have to look hard to find kids interested in taking up archery.
"A lot of the kids that aren't involved in traditional sports have a lot of interest in this -- I coach the bowling team here, and you see the same thing with them," McLeod said. "Some of the kids come before school at 7:30, some come during their lunchtime to practice. I've got some elementary kids that come during recess. They're giving up their time to get in there and practice. I try to set it up so if a kid is playing another sport, they can come practice before school and it doesn't interfere. We try to do it so they can play what they want to play."
McLeod said archery is a great learning experience both from the team sports perspective and in developing as an individual.
"One of the great things is not only are they learning from playing a team sport, but they're also setting individual goals along with their team goals -- a lot of life skills and a lot of discipline," he said. "You've got to hold that bow on the target until you know you've got the shot, and it takes a lot of self-discipline to wait until you've got it. It's a sport like golf that they can do forever. Most of them are very dedicated and they get in there and practice every chance they get."
Fifth-grader William Britton echoed McLeod's advantages.
"I've been doing it since I was about four," said Britton, whose sister Madeleine shoots for the middle school team. "It's fun, and you don't have to get hurt like in football or get hit with the ball like in baseball. If you get injured, you don't have to wait a year before you can do it -- you can do archery even if you have something wrong with you or can't run or aren't the strongest or tallest. It doesn't really matter. Just about anybody can do it."
Madeleine Britton also got started at an early age because of their father's interest in hunting. She took a break from archery only to pick it back up when she discovered Thomas Sumter would be having a team.
"I put my bow down for a couple of years, and then (William) started shooting with his hunting bow and it started up at Thomas Sumter, so I picked it back up because there was a team," she said. "One day I went to practice and I liked it, and I already had the bow, so I just decided to do it."
Madeleine said that with practice, archery becomes almost second nature.
"As soon as you know where to shoot, it's just easy," she said. "You just pull it back, and you know the right place -- you don't even have to aim."
TSA's top high school archer is Singletary, now in only his second year as a competitive archer and shooting in the high 290s out of 300 on average.
"Last year, I found out about the team, joined and was shooting about average," said Singletary. "I took a little bit of a break, and when I came back, I had lost some of the muscle memory I had, and I worked off that and kept improving. I just practiced and practiced. I loved it, and I got to the point where I was enjoying it so much I was shooting four hours a day, and that got me where I am now."
Singletary agreed that the sport is mostly a mental challenge.
"It's 98 percent mental and 2 percent physical, and you have to develop that," he said. "It's not so much shooting as thinking about it and then just doing it over and over again until that becomes muscle memory."
Singletary said he got started with his father's hunting bow three years ago, but doesn't bow hunt because he likes to remain focused on the competition.
"I don't want to develop bad habits," Singletary said. "I want to kind of stick to the same thing every time, and that way I don't have to change anything - I can just stay in the motion of shooting on these targets."
After the NASP state tournament at the end of March, TSA will hope to return to the national tournament and even the Worlds. It has been to both.
"We qualified to go to the national tournament in Louisville, Kentucky, and it was a great experience," said McLeod. "There were over 17,000 kids there shooting in a 4-day tournament. From there, we qualified to go to the Worlds in Orlando, (Florida) and we traveled down there and competed. It's just getting better, and the kids are loving it."
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