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It all started with a visit by Jason Keltner to the office of administrator Lori Eubank in the fall of 2012 that started the ball rolling (or arrows shooting) for the Kentucky Christian Academy archery team’s quick journey to the elementary division national championship at the NASP (National Archery in the School Programs) in Louisville on Saturday.
Keltner walked into Eubank’s office and said, “We need to start an archery program.”
“You mean elementary kids using bows and arrows,” quizzed Eubank. “And I didn’t know any interest we’d have.”
However, great success in season one with a regional championship and state runner-up title led to even more interest in the 95-student school.
“To think 16-17 months ago this team would win a national championship is a Cinderella story,” Eubank continued on Monday before honoring the national champions in an assembly with parents, friends and dignitaries on campus.
“They know their talent comes from the Lord and on each of their shirts it says “On Target For Christ”.
This (archery) is a great witnessing tool for the children. There aren’t words to describe the growth and spirit this year.
“The self-confidence they’ve developed through archery is immeasurable.”
Keltner, who has been involved in sports of all varieties much of his life and has won numerous titles in stock-car racing, gets even more pleasure out of his coaching this group of boys and girls.
“This national championship is bigger than anything I’ve ever done,” Keltner said. “You just don’t win a national championship in your second year.
“We probably haven’t paid our dues, but our kids work hard. Pulaski, Madison and Trigg counties are the powerhouses (in the elementary division), but we don’t fly under the radar any more.”
Two of the KCA participants did quite well as fifth-grader Briana Mardis was second in the girls’ division and third-grader Charles Cox placed 15th.
“My mom added up my scores before my last round and I knew what I had to win (48 points),” Mardis offered. “I’m glad I knew what I needed and I shot my best (despite scoring 47 and coming up one point short).”
“One day I just went out and shot and I liked it,” Cox, who also plays baseball and was leaving for an individual work-out after Monday’s celebration. “I was practicing a lot before (nationals) and (especially) the night before. I tried to be mentally prepared and I tried my hardest.”
To be eligible to have an archery team, schools have to teach it in physical education classes to third-fifth graders.
“The positive for the program, every kid (24) gets to participate,” Keltner said.
“Everybody gets to shoot,” assistant Mike Gribbins said. “We went to Marion County to see what it was about and we realized it was something every child could do.
“But, we weren’t sure the first of this year we could take this team to tournaments (because of inexperience among some of the newer shooters).
“However, we turned out to be national champs,” said a teary-eyed and very proud Gribbins.
At the conclusion of Monday’s ceremony, Eubank asked the national champs to “thank mom and dad for their support and getting them to every practice and tournament” and Keltner thanked the parents and guests for attending and giving the team the “love they deserve.”
“I’m proud and honored to be part of this school,” Keltner concluded as the team headed down the road for a practice. “But, you don’t get to be a national champion by practicing one day a week.”
The chants of K-C-A, K-C-A, K-C-A reminded this sports-crazy area that UK (University of Kentucky) won the 2012 NCAA men’s basketball title, U of L (University of Louisville) wore the 2013 crown, but the 2014 national version belongs to the archery team from Kentucky Christian Academy.
Other “veteran” participants weren’t shy to offer their opinions on KCA’s success.
“We give all the glory to God,” Adam Jeffries said. We practiced more this year (than last). We won the national tile, but we also had a good time.”
“I always liked archery,” admitted Brad Gribbins. “After Richmond, we knew we could beat them (KCA’s nemesis Shopville). Grades came first because if we didn’t get those, we didn’t get to shoot.”
“Honestly, I thought we had the potential, but then my confidence went down a little when I realized we were competing against the whole country,” Grayson Wise admitted.
“It was fun,” grinned Hayes Mason. “I’m proud for everybody, including the coaches.”
Briana Mardis 286
• second out of 1,219 girls and second out of 725 fifth-grade girls.
Charles Cox 283
• 15th out of 1,573 boys, second out of 96 third-grade boys.
Adam Jeffries 276
Brad Gribbins 276
Joshua Gaddis 274
Reili Framer 270
Grayson Wise 267
Macayla Falls 266
Austin Tungate 263
Chloe Gribbins 263
Keeli Farmer 258
Hayes Mason 255
Other notes of interest
• In competition, hile all players shoot, the top four boys’ scores, top four girls’ totals and the next four highest scores make up the 12-person team at the competition. (KCA’s 12-person team at nationals was six boys and six girls.)
• The national title qualifies KCA for the world tournament July 11-13 in Madison, Wisc.
• The only local tourney the team participated in came in one hosted by Taylor County.
“We’ll have a tournament in the new gym next year,” Eubank said. “When God gives us $1.5 million for a $1.5 million building, you know he has a plan.”
• Two million youngsters compete in archery nationwide and 10,000 were at nationals, making it the largest archery tournament according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
There were 114 teams in the elementary division with 39 total states represented.