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Learning safety through shooting sports
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The solitary "crack" of a BB pellet hitting its target breaks the silence of the Walton County Livestock Barn. Then a volley of shots begin to hit their marks, kicking off the district 4-H BB match.

Six Newton 4-H’ers and three coaches are gathered behind two shooting lanes.

Each seems to be holding his breath, hoping today’s scores will qualify the team for state competition.

At the line are two Newton 4-H’ers and coaches dressed in matching camouflage T-shirts with "Newton County 4-H BB Team" emblazoned in red across the back.

One 4-H’er has a camouflage hat on backwards holding hair out of her face.

The second has saddle oxfords on her feet, blue ribbon holding back a long blonde ponytail, a purple stained BB gun in her hands and pearls on her wrist.

"They’re faux," she tells me. "I guess if I ran out of BBs I could use them."

That’s right — four team members are girls.

Boys scoffed last fall at the idea of girls joining the BB team, and many even claimed that girls can’t shoot.

Boy, have these girls proven the boys wrong.

The girls tell me they expected everyone to shoot about the same, and fifth grader Jacob Bledsoe of Woodlee’s Christian Academy just smiles shyly when I ask.

However, it turns out "girls are better" says seventh grade home schooler Flannery Peay with a giggle.

To be fair, the boys aren’t bad shots, but eighth grader Paige Behm of Indian Creek Middle has emerged as the team’s top shooter.

Saturday, Paige scored 343 out of 400, earning 28th place out of 133 shooters.

In the kneeling position, sixth grader Madalyn Pagerie of Woodlee’s Christian Academy shot a 91 out of 100 earning a fifth place finish, with Paige just two points behind in seventh place.

Newton 4-H parent Dennis Bledsoe wanted his son involved in shooting sports, so he recruited two volunteers — Jerry Franzone and Bobby Kinsey — to train as certified 4-H chaperones and certified shooting sports coaches.

Madalyn’s dad, Paul Pagerie, said he encouraged his daughter to come to the information meeting, but says she is the one who decided to join the team.

Practices are held weekly at Newton High on the JROTC indoor shooting range or in the FFA livestock barn.

The Newton teams received a standing ovation at their first match in March for being the only first-time teams out of 25.

The coaches say they checked out the other teams’ target boxes before returning home to improve on their own design, and last weekend it was the other coaches’ turn to check out Newton’s boxes.

The 4-H’ers checked out team shirts and decorated BB guns.

MaKenzy McCord, a fourth-grade home schooler, now sports a neon green firearm with stickers of bright paint splashes. Fifth grader David King of East Newton painted his silver, and Flannery Peay stained hers purple.

The 4-H’ers learn safety as well and were not even allowed to begin target practices until they passed a safety test.

A written safety quiz is part of every competition.

MaKenzy’s dad, Scott McCord, says it was inexpensive to get started thanks to an educational discount. He, like several other parents, says it’s become a family event as they practice, with 4-H’ers now commonly beating their parents.

"MaKenzy even gets on to her mom to be sure it’s unloaded," said McCord of their practices where, he reports, "Now she can beat her momma bad."

Scott adds that he has his eye on college scholarships available through target sports programs.

As the team gets ready to start the standing position, I ask if they are wearing lucky socks or some other charm.

"No, we’ve got our lucky guns," says Paige.

It must have worked, because the team qualified with 27 points to spare.


Terri Kimble is the 4-H Educator for Newton County 4-H. She can be reached at 770-784-2010 or