TIFTON -- The Colquitt County Blaze, 14-and-under girls fastpitch softball team, won two out of three games Thursday and Friday to advance to within a game of the championship game at the GRPA state tournament.
Colquitt County defeated Lamar County, 19-15, Thursday. Ashley Stafford had a home run and a single, Heather Tucker had a triple and a single, and Elizabeth Burdette had two singles. Leigh Norman and Ashley Chafin had one single each. Colquitt County players walked 13 times.
The Blaze defeated Glynn County, 7-6, on Friday. Elizabeth Burdette had a double and a single, Heather Tucker had a triple, and Kenyetta Wallace had a double. Singles were added by Ashley Chafin, Morgan Jones and Heather Roberts. Again, Colquitt County players walked 13 times.
Colquitt County lost to Effingham County Friday, 7-6. Ashley Stafford had a double, and Heather Tucker had a single. Colquitt County players walked nine times.
The Blaze plays in the loser's bracket at 10 a.m. today, facing the winner of the Glynn County-Jones County loser's bracket game. If Colquitt wins that game, the Blaze will again face Effingham County in the championship game at noon. If Colquitt wins, it will force the if-needed game scheduled for 2 p.m.
MOULTRIE -- Some two dozen Colquitt County youngsters are learning the ins and outs of trapshooting in a small clearing at the end of dirt lane just off the Dunn Road.
And a number of those will be taking part in National competitions this summer.
Emma Simpson won a gold medal, Jim Hancock a silver and Clark Burroughs a bronze at the recent Georgia Junior Olympics and will travel to Colorado next month for the the National Junior Olympics.
They also will participate in the National Championships to be held in Colorado beginning next Thursday.
And 12 members of the local trapshooting team will compete in the 104th Grand American Trapshooting Championships, which will be held Aug. 7-16, in Vandalia, Ohio.
The tournament, billed as the largest event of its kind in the world, will bring together more than 5,000 competitors.
Representing Colquitt County are junior team members Matt Dennis, Carson Spivey, John Kimbrell, Rob Wingate and Jay Wingate.
Senior team members are Adam Taylor, Kevin Tucker, Shaun Berry, Clark Burroughs and Jeremiah Davis.
Simpson and Lindsay Thomas will compete in the open division.
Simpson and Hancock have been successful at top-level competition for several years.
Hancock, son of Debbie and Ernest Hancock, took a bronze medal in his age group in the Junior Olympic Champion-ships in Colorado Springs, Colo., last year and also took top awards in the Northwest Region Championships in Missoula, Mont.
Until Mike and Gloria Simpson built their bunker near their Hartsfield home about a year ago, Emma Simpson, Hancock and other aspiring young trapshooters were forced to travel to Atlanta and/or Columbus to train.
The success of the young shooters has made the investment worthwhile, Mike Simpson said.
"You can see the benefit," he said recently as a number of youngsters -- including his daughter, Hancock, Burroughs and Jay Wingate -- practiced on a sweltering afternoon.
Mike Simpson began helping youngsters learn the sport about eight years ago and since then has attended a number of clinics and seminars aimed at training coaches.
"I've spent a lot of money learning to coach," he said.
He also has a considerable investment in the bunker behind his house that has three Olympic trap machines.
Simpson can set machines to 10 schemes according U.S. Shooting international rules.
The machines are voice activated by the shooter and send the clay birds out at 110 mph.
The shooter must react in .8 of a second. The clays are about 35 yards out when a shot is fired.
The shooter can fire two shots at the bird.
Emma Simpson said she was averaging between 23 and 24 out of 25 birds before suffering severe injuries in a one-car wreck in September.
She returned to practice in January and is getting close to reaching those numbers again -- she says she is hitting betweeen 21 and 23 a round -- thanks to having the ability to practice every day.
"It takes patience, which I sometimes lack," Emma Simpson said. But having a training facility close by and a father doubling as a coach has helped her improve.
"We're trying to get Colquitt County kids on the Olympic path," said Mike Simpson, whose daughter is a member of the National Team.
"Jim (Hancock) should make the USA Team this year. Three more should make it next year. It'll open a lot of doors for kids."
Many people are unaware that some college have competitive shooting teams and scholarship money is available.
And Mike Simpson is hoping his daughter may be able to take advantage of her skill to help fund a college education.
Emma Simpson, who graduated from Colquitt County High in May, is planning to attend Abraham Baldwin College, but will delay taking classes until January while she trains for October's Olympic Trials.
Both father and daughter are optimistic that ABAC will start a competitive shooting team.
Emma Simpson would like to be part of that team. There is a possibility that Mike Simpson could coach the team.
But Mike Simpson will continueto work with Colquitt County youngsters, hoping to develop a new crop of Emma Simpsons and Jim Hancocks.
And perhaps even see a familiar face during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
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