Archery in Mississippi schools continues to grow across the state. The program began in 2005 with 10 schools. AIMS is now in almost 500 schools and 50 counties with over 70,000 students participating each year.
Thirteen of those schools are from the Coast: Picayune, Pearl River Central, Pascagoula, Poplarville, Hancock, West Harrison, D'Iberville, Harrison Central, Cedar Lake Christian Academy, Union Baptist, Our Lady Academy, St. Martin and Stone. Cedar Lake is located in Biloxi. Union Baptist is located in Picayune. AIMS is supported by the Mississippi Department Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, coordinating the implementation of archery programs in public and private schools. Coaches must complete an eight-hour clinic and pass a test to be certified through the Mississippi Archery in the Schools Program. The Foundation for the MDWFP provides certification classes.
In a match, schools take the four highest boys' scores, four highest girls' scores, and the next four highest scores regardless of gender to complete their team score. The 12 scores are used for the team total.
Hancock coach Joe Vitalec enjoys coaching Archery. The Hawks' assistant coach is Shawn Feazelle.
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"I love the sport," Vitalec said. "I've bow hunted my whole life. Archery isn't about me, it's about the kids. In archery, it doesn't matter who you are. Anybody can do it, but it takes focus."
The Coast has several contenders to win state and individual championships next month. The AIMS State Championship will be held on April 4-8 at the Kirk Fordice Equine Center in Jackson.
At last week's South state qualifier in Columbia, Picayune finished first in 5A Public School. Stone was second, West Harrison fifth. In 6A Public school, Hancock was third. St. Martin was fourth, D'Iberville fifth and Harrison Central seventh. OLA finished first in 2A Private School. Union Baptist was second in 1A Private School.
Jack Cappel of Picayune was the highest ranked male individual performer, finishing ninth with a score of 282. Morgan Baker of Stone finished third among female performers with a score of 283.
Picayune was the 5A state runner-up last year, Stone finished third. OLA was third in 3A. Stone High's Jessica Baker won the state's female individual championship last season in Jackson. Her older sister, Morgan Baker, finished fifth.
"Archery's a growing sport and the Coast will be represented," said Brad Talley, who co-coaches St. Martin with Joe Clark.