I spent Saturday morning sitting on the back of a pickup at the Walton County Agricultural Center, listening as the 4-H’ers and parents sat around in safety orange T-shirts waiting on each shooter’s turn.
The 4-H Project S.A.F.E. (Shooting Awareness, Fun and Education) team members competed in the district qualifying match, aiming for a chance to shoot at the state tournament in a few weeks.
Safety glasses are perched on nearly every head. Now, you might expect they’re all wearing camouflage and talking about hunting, but that would be more like how the team looked 5 years ago when only 4 team members were girls.
Today, most of the team is girls.
One girl is wearing plastic green beads with bright green lace peeking out from the hem of her shirt, two others have neon pink pants with their safety orange team shirts.
They talk about the differences between home school and public school, the kid on another team who looks like Harry Styles from a popular teen band One Direction and Facebook.
The girls turn to talk of dating, the high school programs they’ve applied to, internships and even colleges, while a couple of the boys drag my dog out for a walk around the park.
MaKenzy McCord, an eighth grade 4-H’er in home school, has been on this team since it began five years ago.
In the first article I wrote about the team at this same tournament in 2009, she was sporting a camo shirt, a camo hat on backwards, and a BB gun decorated in neon stickers.
Today, she has much trendier bright duct tape all over her BB gun, she’s wearing makeup and the team is nearly all girls.
That year, she told me how she and her dad set up a practice range in the garage, and how she could already beat her mom at target practice.
"The first year, I was hitting twos and threes, and hitting black was like a miracle," she said.
"Black" is the center of a target, with the 10-point circle being as small as a single BB. Each shooter shoots 10 times each in four positions during the tournament.
She’s also talking about wanting to help coach next year when she ages out of BB.
"I’ve been here for five years, and it’s kind of a big part of what I do," said MaKenzy.
Scott Everitt, a fifth grader in Ms. Fulmer’s 4-H club at Flint Hill Elementary, is in his first year shooting with the team.
"I like it. I love it. I really do," said Scott. "I was bugging my parents for a BB gun, but didn’t have a good excuse."
His mom interjects to quote, "You’ll shoot your eye out!"
Maureen Everitt said they consented to let Scott join the team when they realized it was going to be a safe activity.
"The emphasis on safety really helped," she said.
4-H’ers competing included Liberty Middle eighth graders Kacie Gartner and Kara Gartner, and seventh grader Kayla Gartner.
Home school students were eighth graders Reilly Cummings and MaKenzy McCord, seventh grader Ransley Cummings and fifth grader Ethan Carter.
James Taylor Booth is a fifth grader in Ms. Wardingley’s 4-H club at the Newton County Theme School, and Scott Evritt is a fifth grader in Ms. Fulmer’s 4-H club at Flint Hill Elementary.
James Taylor Booth has his yellow, wraparound safety glasses on, and rubs his hands together as he talks about how he plans to get $5 from coach Scott McCord.
McCord said he has offered his daughter MaKenzy the money at every match — if she can get 10 bullseyes in a single round. She hasn’t collected yet.
So today, he’s made the offer to the entire team and James is trying hard to earn it.
He doesn’t get the money, but his concentration pays off — James finished 11th out of all first time shooters, and 35th overall.
James Taylor Booth, MaKenzy McCord, Kacie Gartner and Reilly Cummings each qualified for the state tournament. They will be accompanied by volunteer leaders and coaches Scott McCord and Eric Cummings, as well as many of the other team members to cheer them on.
Maybe McCord will have to give up that $5 bill yet.
Terri Kimble is the Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at 770-784-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.