Archery team makes top 100 nationally (videos)
This article originally appeared on DelmarvaNow.com
Archery has always been a major part of Bruce Bowden’s life.
Since he was a young boy, he grew up with a bow-and-arrow around while spending hours in his backyard perfecting his skills as an archer.
Bowden's two sons, Trent, 14, and Trevor, 11, have also grown up with a bow in their hands and spending their days after school in the woods hunting deer and turkeys.
Knowing how much he and his family enjoyed archery, Bowden decided to take it to Holly Grove Christian School as a competitive sport.
“This is something I did just about my whole childhood, and I would have loved to have this when I was in school,” Bowden said. “This is kind of a dream I’ve had the last 20 years, and me and the coaches finally got the school to agree to do it as another sport."
Less than two years ago, the Holly Grove archery team was nothing more than a thought. The only time students had with a bow was a short period in the year in P.E. class.
But with Bowden and his coaches’ leadership, paired with the skill set of the 52 Holly Grove archers that joined the team, the Eagles have created not just one of the best squads in Maryland, but one of the best in the country.
"We just kept working hard, people kept giving money, we kept being able to buy more targets, more bows, more arrows and things just seemed to fall together," Bowden said.
Holly Grove is part of the National Archery in the Schools Program, an organization that focuses on motivating kids academically while teaching archery skills.
In its inaugural season, the team, which is divided into three categories: elementary, middle and high school, took part in just one tournament to get its feet wet.
With that experience under their belts, the Eagles returned last October with the goal of making the state championship, and they succeeded.
Not only did the Eagles advance to the state title match, but they swept the competition, earning first place in the elementary, middle and high school 3-D categories. The team also won the top prize in the elementary bullseye category, giving it four of the six team competitions, while McKenzie Bennett and Trent Bowden took home individual awards.
"I practiced really hard at home on my targets," Trent said. "I like to hunt and I like shooting bows so that's why I thought doing archery would be fun. My first competition I was really nervous, but it was also exciting. After a while I started to settle down and wasn't nervous anymore."
Holly Grove qualified for nationals in Louisville, Kentucky where the school finished as one of the top 100 teams in the nation. Holly Grove's elementary team was even invited to attend the worlds match in Orlando, Florida, but due to a lack of funds, the Eagles are unable to attend the event in July.
"We've got a great backing, and the parents and grandparents and everyone have been real supportive and helped us have the funds for a lot of other tournaments, and hopefully now that people know what we can do, we can get some more support from other places," Bowden said.
The road to the state championship didn’t come easy for the team. While many of the 52 archers had prior experience with a bow, the nerves brought on by competing against other teams were something Bowden and his staff looked to bring down.
Like he’s done many times in his life, Bowden turned to religion.
“For two weeks, all I did was try to build their confidence up by using scripture that we had, doing devotional prayer and just talking, telling them we're good," Bowden said. "They were pumped going into the states."
Being a Christian school, Bowden used several scriptures throughout the year to serve as motivation and inspiration as the team worked its way to the state and national championships.
Before heading to states, many people told Bowden his team's inexperience would finally be displayed in front of the best archers in Maryland.
But Bowden refused to listen, and encouraged his athletes to look to God.
"After we went up and won everything that we did, I think, I could see it in their eyes that they had seen God," Bowden said. "They realized this was impossible with man, and truly God was with them."
The team was invited and honored by the Somerset County Commissioners on May 30 for its historic and exciting season, cementing itself as an official part of high school athletics on the Shore.
The Eagles have high hopes going into next season, as they prepare to defend their state titles and make it back to nationals and ultimately worlds.
"I want to be a state and national champion next year," Trevor said. "The first, quite a few (competitions), I got kind of nervous, but then I got calm once I got to the states. If I keep practicing, I think I'll make it."
But for Bowden, at the end of the day it's not about how many trophies his team brings home.
"All I ask for them to do is have fun. If I see a big smile, that's all I want," Bowden said. "They know all they have to do is do their best, and that's all I'm looking for."