During the next decade, if one or more Augusta area youths are named to national or Olympics-bound archery teams, members of the Thomson Field Archery Club won't be surprised.
The club-backed Junior Olympic Archery Development team, self-named Arrow Heads, already sports 11 state champions, with other members who have earned a variety of honors.
"Our goals are to see some of our kids make national or Olympic teams and we don't think the possibilities are that far-fetched," said team director John T. Lowe.
There are 260 clubs in Georgia's Junior Olympic Archery Development program, with the first Augusta area team organized just a few years ago. The Thomson group was organized last March and joins Southside's Arrow Heads, Fort Gordon's Golden Archers, the Sure Shots and an as yet unnamed Urban Ministries team.
The JOAD program is for children ranging in age from 7 to 17 who want to learn to shoot bows for fun or competition, or a mixture of both. Members are required to join the National Archery Association.
Starting kids early means the sport will become self-perpetuating. There are 27 youngsters participating in the Thomson program, with more on the way, and Lowe admits that "we're a bit more competitive than the other clubs. Seventy-five percent of our kids shoot tournaments -- the others shoot just for the fun of it."
The program places emphasis on individual achievement and improvement, with archers earning patches as they shoot higher scores. For example, archers must score 50 points out of a possible 300 to earn a Yeoman's patch; those shooting 290 out of 300 sew on an Olympian's patch.
Participants can choose either recurve or compound bows, using equipment provided by the club, or their personal bows.
Some are switching from compound to recurve, because Olympic archers can't use the former.
Being able to use club-owned equipment at first allows users and their parents to mark the level of interest in archery before having to make an investment in personal gear.
"Good, quality equipment for first-time shooters is available in the $150 to $200 range," said Jim Pruitte, assistant director of the JOAD club.
Presently, the Arrow Heads meet Mondays for a two-hour shoot at American Sportsman's indoor range. Use of the range costs nothing, thanks to the generosity of owner Paul Gray, who also gives the kids a break on equipment purchases, Lowe said.
Cost is $2 a week, but if an archer has a sibling involved in the program, the latter pays only $1. The money is used to pay for targets, patches and equipment.
Lowe said when the Arrow Heads first organized, "some of them had never picked up a bow before. However, many of them belonged to our club, which provides financial support, equipment and instructors.
"When a kid joins, we ask his parents not only for support, but to stay with him during the session," Lowe said. "We are not baby-sitters.
"Our kids' parents have been just great. There have times when I wasn't able to make it to a tournament and someone else would see to it that my kids made it.
"Everybody's been pulling together -- that's what's making us go."
Another reason for the team's success is the mutual respect the youngsters and adults share.
"Ours is a disciplined team," said Lowe. "We hand out a set of rules to each of them when they join. They come to shoot for two hours, show respect for the instructors and fellow archers and follow all the safety and club rules."
In turn, there's no cussing, smoking, or drinking allowed around the kids, whose instructors strive to teach the best techniques for indoor, outdoor and 3-dimensional target tournaments.
"We don't put up with horseplay and we don't have a problem asking anyone making trouble to leave.
"Our kids know they're a team, and they cheer each other on during a tournament. It's just a joy for me to watch the littlest one on up and they're fun to be around."
Anyone interested in joining the TFAC JOAD can contact John and Leslie Lowe at 556-3901, or Jim and Mechelle Pruitte at 556-0738, or Paul Gray at 863-4868.
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