By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
ECRU – When North Pontotoc’s Coach Joe Waller, a Kentucky native, suggested the school start an archery program, he was met with a lukewarm response. Only two years later, the fires of a new tradition are blazing higher than anyone could have imagined.
Two dozen students at North Pontotoc tried out for the school’s initial archery team in 2009. This past fall, there were 350 in the tryouts.
What happened during that span to cause the rise? Matt Lindsey, Waller’s assistant for two years, tells it best.
“It’s an opportunity for every kid of every athletic ability,” Lindsey said. “It’s something they’ve found rewarding because it’s a great equalizer. You get out of it exactly what you put in. Everyone starts on an equal footing, everyone’s development depends on their practice and dedication alone.”
The team is co-ed by rule. Up to 24 shooters may compete in a match. Of those, the top 12 scores are used to calculate the winner, and four of those 12 must be from the opposite sex: eight boys and four girls, or vice versa.
That’s certainly not to say it’s easy – far from it. The shooters come in every shape and size, but their bow is available in only one size.
All high-school archers shoot a Matthews Genesis with a 20-pound draw. It’s a compound bow but with round wheels only, no cams, and there’s no set stop point and no let-off. There are also no sights whatsoever and no mechanical or caliper release aids allowed, meaning the shooters use their fingers only to draw and shoot, aiming the bow based on a positional relationship between the target and a spot of their own choosing on the riser or upper limb.
In two years of competition, North Pontotoc High School has never lost a regular season meet and has won two state championships. Roughly 60 schools in Mississippi fielded a team in 2009, more than 200 this past season. Archery in the schools is part of an on-going effort by the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Foundation and the MDWFP to introduce the state’s youth to the outdoors. According to the foundation’s website, Mississippi is the 25th state to launch this program.
North Pontotoc’s team went to the national championship meet this year, held annually at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., where they competed against 7,000 shooters from 350 schools and, as a team, finished 35th, quite a feat for a two-year-old program.
Though still new, the program features some all-star shooters of its own. Kristen Swords shot the highest round of any archer at Mississippi’s state championship meet and, at the national competition, Hunter Coleman, a junior at the time, finished eighth in the nation in his age group.
“I’ve been bowhunting all my life and (when the school started a team) I just wanted to get involved in it,” Coleman said. “Whatever you put into it is what you’ll get.”
Waller, a Kentucky native, is on his way to a job back home for this coming school year, leaving Lindsey to carry on what the two, and the community, has started.
“I hope I can do what coach Waller’s done,” Lindsey said. “What he started has been great for the community, and really great for the kids. The program’s a credit to his vision and leadership. I’m excited to see what the future brings.”