ALBANY -- Jeremy McKinley set out less than a year ago to try to put together an archery team at Lake Park Elementary.
Little did McKinley know, he had a nationally competitive team on his hands.
Lake Park Elementary will send 20 archers to the National Archery in the Schools Program national tournament in Louisville, Ky., starting today to shoot against more than 7,200 student archers from 34 states. The two-day tournament is billed as the largest archery competition in North America.
"I knew once I put this team together, it was going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to get to where they are now," said McKinley, who teaches the archery program during his physical education classes and also holds practices after school.
The team, which is comprised of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade girls and boys, will shoot at 1:30 p.m. today at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville. The school's shooters will compete in the elementary division (4th through 6th grade), although Lake Park has no sixth-grade students.
Lake Park's team wasn't put together until early January and practiced a few days a week to prepare for February's Georgia-NASP state tournament in Perry. There, Lake Park's 23 archers finished fourth in the elementary division and managed to qualify for nationals with a score of 2,698 (2,500 or higher was the qualifying score).
Garrett Lloyd's score of 264 (300 maximum) led the team, while Garrison Shenker fired a 253. Lloyd's score was the fourth-highest elementary male total in the state. Brooke Hendley had the team's highest female score with a 221.
"Each member of the team has dedicated themselves to become a better archer," McKinley said. "Every practice has become a mini-competition to see who gets the higher score. I believe this competitiveness amongst the team has helped them focus on what they can and will achieve at the national tournament."
The team's Top 12 scores, which must include four scores from an opposite gender, will give the team its final total. Lake Park students held a fundraiser to sell certificates to Austin's Barbecue in order to raise money for the trip to Louisville this weekend.
"I would like to thank everyone who is involved in making this archery program a success here at Lake Park," McKinley said.
Miller County High School and archery coach Bill Spooner, meanwhile, will be taking two individual archers to the national tournament as well. Miller's Josh Broxton, whose 280 was the second-highest score at the state tournament, and Eric Whatley (267) will compete in Louisville as individuals.
Funston Elementary School in Colquitt County, coached by Keith Summerlin, will also be sending individuals to nationals. Lee County Elementary also qualified for the national tournament but opted not to make the trip to Kentucky.
The National Archery in the Schools Program is coordinated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division. About 200 schools in Georgia are certified in the NASP. There are 46 states currently teaching the archery in the schools program with more than 5,000 schools nationwide participating.
For more information on the program, contact the DNR in Albany at (229) 430-187.