Volunteer coach has Brock archery team aiming high

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 03, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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As a Brock school district maintenance worker, Kelly McDonald spends most of his days repairing “just about anything,” from buses to sprinkler systems.

Fixing the high school’s archery team was not in his job description.

But what began as a passing interest in the fledgling program has evolved into a berth in an upcoming world tournament in Madison, Wisc. — due in large part to McDonald’s willingness to voluntarily step in and refocus the program’s aim.

“We just kinda’ step in and help where we can,” McDonald said of the of small school in Brock, southwest of Weatherford.

Brock school district officials secured a grant almost two years ago to start an archery team through the National Archery in the Schools Program. Outside the jurisdiction of the University Interscholastic League, the archery team falls under the umbrella of the district’s agriculture department, which used the grant money to buy bows, arrows and targets.

Senior Cole Thomasson was among the first students to sign up.

“I thought it would be pretty fun to show people that, if we do pretty well, that basketball and the other sports isn’t the only thing we’ve got,” he said.

About five dozen students joined Thomasson initially, but it didn’t take long for the numbers to dwindle.

“Once some of the people realized how much hard work and dedication we put into this and how much we actually wanted to succeed, they backed out and we narrowed it down to about 16 kids that really wanted to shoot with us and see this go far and be a part of it,” Thomasson said.

The team was initially coached by Brock school board President Bill Cooper, but he had to step down due to other commitments, and the Eagles found themselves coach-less.

Thomasson and several other seniors did their best to maintain the team, with occasional guidance from staffers in the ag department. That’s when McDonald, curious to see how things were going, stopped by in November, and instantly changed the direction of the team.

“I just poked my head in the door to see what was going on with the archery team,” said McDonald, 52. “I was just watching some of the kids and looking at some of the bows and arrows and inquired about how long they’d been shooting the bows like this. They said, ‘What do you mean, like this?’ There were a lot of problems with the bows, and I asked if I could work on them and fix them and they said ‘sure.’ 

‘Technique was bad’

Team members had seen McDonald around in his maintenance capacities, but they had little idea he was the son of accomplished archers from Oklahoma. His father is a seven-time national champion and world gold medal champion; his mother a two-time national champ and world gold medal champion. Jim and Pat McDonald were inducted into the Oklahoma State Archery Association Hall of Fame in 2006.

McDonald, 52, said he’s been an archer “since I was a teenager,” but does not compete at the levels of his parents.

“From just being around the sport all my life, I could come in and see that some of them were OK and some were poor,” McDonald said. “Their technique was bad … I just started hanging around more and more and then the ag teachers started hanging out less and less. So I just kind of started coming every day and working with the kids.”

Passing along the guidance he’d learned from his parents, the team saw marked improvement, even if took a little time to get everyone on the same page.

“It’s been a little bumpy at times,” senior Makayela Fuller said. “He’s not a teacher. So he had to kind of learn on the go and learn to communicate with us what he was thinking in his head and getting it out to show us. There were rough patches, but he started showing us technique and showing us how to stay in our own little bubble when we shoot. He just had to figure out a way to get it to us that we would understand.”

“Once everybody heard his background, they had a huge amount of respect for him and we treated him like a coach right off the bat,” Thomasson said. “He was there whenever people needed him. He never got mad; never got upset over anything. He helped us out with the little things and stayed there as late as we needed him. He’s just been a great coach and great asset to how successful this team has been.”

‘A great accomplishment’

The team, which last year at the state tournament fell about 100 points shy of qualifying for the national tournament, suffered no such fate this season. The archers earned a trip to Louisville, Ky., in early May for NASP nationals, and then surpassed their own expectations by qualifying for next month’s world competition.

The NASP World Tournament is July 11-13.

“Just to make it to nationals was a great accomplishment for us,” Thomasson said. “When we got the news we made it to worlds, my heart just about leaped up to my throat. I was so excited. It’s a big, big thing for us to make it to worlds.”

Team members have little doubt that none of it would have been possible without McDonald.

“He just puts so much dedication in. He’ll stop what he’s doing and he’ll come answer questions and whatever it takes to understand what he’s trying to teach. He’s very patient and he cares about each student individually,” Fuller said.

From McDonald’s perspective, it was never really a question of whether to pitch in and help out; his job is to fix things that aren’t working properly.

“I’ve heard the term in the past, ‘You find a need and you fill it,’ ” he said. “There was a need for somebody to do something or this program was going to collapse and disappear from the school.”

He’ll be accompanying the archers to the world tournament, driving the bus.

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