District Helps New 4-H Club Get Off the Ground

4-H archery activitiesLeft: Range Master Bill Rappleyea, right, and Teagan Harris demonstrate shooting technique. Right: Tyler Smith, left, and Austin Vice retrieve their arrows after a contest.

Thanks to some help from the District, a new 4-H Club is getting off the ground in Sumter County.

The Sumter County 4-H Club is using the District’s Lake Panasoffkee property to draw kids and parents from across the county to support the new club.

“We’re kicking off the new club with youth archery,” said Bill Rappleyea, the archery range master and the new 4-H Club’s founder. “The Lake Panasoffkee property works really well for us. It has plenty of shade in the pavilion and plenty of open space to set up the archery range.”

The 9,911-acre Lake Panasoffkee property is equipped with a large pavilion with picnic tables and grills in the day-use area, with bathrooms nearby. Rappleyea, a Sumter County Sherriff’s deputy, set up the youth archery range in an open area just a few steps from the pavilion. The Lake Panasoffkee property also has group and equestrian camping areas, complete with horse stalls, for future 4-H activities.

Rappleyea contacted Chuck Lane, the District senior land use specialist who oversees the Lake Panasoffkee property, to get permission to kick off the 4-H Club there.

“When Bill came to us to ask about using the property, it seemed to be a program that lined up with a lot of our objectives,” said Lane. “It gets people using District properties. It gets kids outside learning outdoor activities — a solid youth education component.”

Jeremy Vice, one of the parents who is helping to get the club started, liked what the club offered his son Austin.

“We’re trying to lay down a foundation for youth development skills,” said Jeremy. “Bill is teaching more than archery here. He’s teaching life lessons.”

“The archery gives us a way to teach other things,” said Rappleyea. “It teaches kids how to pay attention. The discipline they learn from range rules and archery skills translates to other parts of their lives too.”

The club is open to all Sumter County school-aged students, whether they attend public, private or home schools. Along with Rappleyea and the parents, the club has help from Teagan Harris, a range instructor who competes in regional archery competitions, and Brent Sargent, a criminal justice academy cadet. The trio is staying flexible while the 4-H program gets off the ground.

“We meet whether one kid shows up or 100,” said Rappleyea. “We’re going to come out and shoot every day we’ve scheduled a meeting. My main thing is to give the kids something to do for the summer.”

Tyler Smith has started practicing his archery skills in his yard since he joined the 4-H Club.

“I’m doing better,” said Smith. “I like learning how to shoot, and I’m learning the fundamentals.”

Smith and Austin Vice traded victories one hot Saturday at the Lake Panasoffkee range. They shot for points on a standard target and then played tic-tac-toe by shooting arrows at a hand-drawn game board. At the end of the day, they both won some and lost some.

“These kids are our future policymakers and future voters,” said Lane. “Programs like these get them outside to see natural Florida and our public lands. When they grow up, we hope they continue to support these types of land conservation programs.”