The new Holly Grove Christian School archery program took a state title within its first year of existence.
Head coach Bruce Bowden often turns to Scripture when instructing the members of the Holly Grove archery team.
But one story he loves to tell comes from the book of Samuel — the tale of David and Goliath.
As the story goes, Goliath, one of the strongest, most feared men throughout the land, accepted a challenge from David, a small, young boy who many believed wouldn’t stand a chance against the mighty warrior.
With only a sling and stone in hand, David conquered Goliath in what became one of the most famous underdog stories and a message of inspiration to several modern-day sports teams.
That was exactly what it did for the 2017 Holly Grove squad.
Still one of the youngest teams in the state, Holly Grove downed almost every opponent in its way, capturing a state, national and world championship.
Coming into 2018, the squad was determined to repeat its success, only the road would be much tougher this time around.
“The other teams had stepped their game up, and they knew they had to because of what they saw last year,” Bowden said. “I think the expectation’s higher because we did so well last year. They want to get back to that world level.”
During the season, Holly Grove had become more of the Goliath, maintaining its reputation of a group of sharpshooters who eventually made it back to the state tournament.
But prior to the Maryland NASP state championship on March 17, disaster struck. In a group made up of 68 elementary, middle and high school students, more than 10 were hit with an illness that caused fevers, sneezing and several other rough symptoms.
Dubbed one of the best archery teams in the nation, Holly Grove’s head coach knew he needed his team at full strength to defend its title.
“We were using medicine, trying to break the fever, but they kept pushing,” Bowden said. “All the kids who were sick said, ‘I have to do this because the team needs us.’ They pushed through it and gave us what we needed. It was an amazing thing.”
Although they didn’t feel 100 percent, the archers stormed into the state championship, determined to win more medals for their work in bullseye and 3-D shooting.
With their trusty bows by their side and a sea of support backing them up, the Holly Grove archers took their places one by one. Participating in the three different divisions, the members went to work defending their title.
A senior at Holly Grove, Christian Blair took the shooting line in one of his last competitions as a high school archer.
Although he had grown up using a bow to hunt, Blair had only recently started shooting competitively. Participating in both bullseye and 3-D, the senior was prepared to make his presence known to his opponents.
Mackenzie Bennett, 11, of Eden, draws her bow during a practice session on Friday, June 9, 2017. Bowden placed eighth in the nation for her efforts during the championship. (Photo: Staff photo by Ralph Musthaler)
“I practiced a lot heading into states,” Blair said. “I practiced on my form, practiced on my shots and just did the same thing over and over again so when I found my spot, I’d hit it every time. When I got up there on the shooting line, I just felt really comfortable.”
Almost immediately, Blair found his groove, putting each of his shots at nearly every spot he intended.
Once his scores were tallied, it was revealed the senior had finished with 290 points in each category, making him the top male scorer at the competition. Blair was awarded a $2,000 scholarship and a new bow for his performance.
“I fell right into it, and once I started hitting my first couple of shots, that was it,” Blair said. “It was the best feeling that I’ve had probably in my life. I wanted this all year long, and that’s what I’ve been practicing for the most.
“Winning it was just a dream come true.”
Blair wasn’t the only archer to find success at the individual level.
Several members of Holly Grove took home personal awards, including sixth-grader Mackenzie Bennett, who finished second overall in the bullseye category, giving her a $1,000 scholarship.
Bennett was instrumental in the team’s success last season, placing at both state and nationals. Although she’s transitioned from the elementary to middle school level, the sixth-grader is still determined to bring in as many accolades as possible and enjoy her time with the squad.
“I’m kind of just doing what Mr. Bruce said and having fun with it,” Bennett said. “I’m just trying to get my score up even higher.”