Hitting the Bullseye Builds Confidence for Kids at Hilltop

Hitting the Bullseye Builds Confidence for Kids at Hilltop

Archery is one of the few sports that may be classified as an individual sport as well as a team sport.

On one hand, a player is competing against other individuals as well as trying to best his or her last score. On another hand, this same player may be competing as part of a team against other teams. Either way, it’s a sport unlike any other and no one knows that better than Hilltop Elementary’s archery coach, Joan Wittmus.

“The thing about archery is that while you’re part of a team, you’re really working to beat your last score,” she said. “The minute those kids hit the target, it builds self-esteem.”

As both Coach and Physical Education teacher, Coach Wittmis has headed up the Hilltop
Archery program for the past five years, which has grown from roughly 40 to now over 120 kids. Archers start as early as Kindergarten and go through the 5th grade under Wittmis’ guidance, some making it all the way to the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

Witmiss starts the kids by teaching archery during physical education class using the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) which is the standard used for tournaments. However, Witmiss stresses that the more competitive archery program happens after school. In the after school program, kids sign up just like any other sport. They practice three days a week at Argyle Intermediate School from October until the national competition in May. They adhere to the NASP rules so that the kids are well disciplined to the program. There is never any running around or messing around. “Safety first” is the catch phrase heard the most around practice. However, Coach Witmiss never misses a chance to make it fun. During some practices they hit balloons, or dollar bills (first one to hit the dollar bill, keeps it) just to make it fun.
Because of the sheer number of kids, Witmiss has four other parents BAI certified (Basic Archery Instruction) to help.

“It really took off about the third year,” said Witmiss. “But the growth isn’t just here, it’s like that all over.”

In fact, the state tournament has a virtual tournament in December to qualify teams to compete in Belton in the spring. After the virtual elimination, the state has over 2,000 archers competing while the national tournament hosts close to 12,000.

At this year’s state tournament, Hilltop had 68 kids competing and one of the teams placed 2nd in the state. The top 12 scorers will now go to the national competition in Louisville. The 12 students are comprised of the top 4 boys, top 4 girls and the other competitors in order of top scores. Morgan Bradford placed 3rd at state and will be competing in the nationals. Her mother signed her up in the first grade just to give her something to do after school.

“The first time she shot, she shot straight into the floor,” said Sharon Bradford about her daughter in the first grade. “I signed her up for archery and the better she shot the more I saw her confidence build.”

Pam Hetner signed her daughter Karlie up for the same reasons. Now Karlie will also compete at the national competition.

“She’s had an up and down year but coach really helped her relax and have fun,” said Hetner. “No matter what, she never wanted to quit, she just loves Coach Witmiss.”

One thing all the parents and kids can agree on, is that Coach Witmiss is one incredible and inspirational coach.

“Coach Witmiss creates a team atmosphere,” said Sharon Bradford. “It’s a supportive environment, no best this or top that. It’s all about cheering each other on.”

George Varrallo, grandfather to 4th grader Ben Nichols says that the coach’s influence has been great for his grandson.

“She does great with these kids showing them sportsmanship,” says Varrallo, who is excited about his road trip to Louisville with Ben.

“He loves being part of a team and he’ll cheer his team on every time.”

As for the coach’s feelings about going to the nationals, she says she thinks their chances are better than ever. She also says she couldn’t ask for a better group of kids.

“This is the most qualified team we’ve had compete to date,” says Witmiss about the 12 students going to the national tournament. “We have some top shooters that are on a whole different level this year.”

Witmiss talked about one 5th grader who has been training very hard this season. She said he wasn’t one to show a lot of emotion, but after his latest practice he shot (as they say) “all bananas” meaning in the yellow on the target. Coach said he was grinning ear to ear.

“I don’t just teach archery, I help these kids to develop confidence,” says Witmiss proudly. “When I see those smiles, it makes it all worthwhile.”

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