Young archers taught with a 'Light' touch

Twice a week, Dennis and Melissa Jones leave work early to bring their 15-year-old son Matt from their Ellicott City home to Ridgely Middle School so that he can take part in the Lutherville Timonium Recreation Council's archery program.

There are closer options that would eliminate the drive — it takes as long as 1 1/2 hours some nights — but no other program allows the opportunity to learn under one of Maryland's most respected and dedicated shooters and coaches, Cockeysville resident Ted Light.

"He's the best instructor," said Dennis Jones as his son shot Thursday afternoon at Ridgely. "Ted has seriously improved (Matt's) game and helped his confidence."

Of course, Light is more than a teacher of archery. He began his decorated shooting career when he was younger than any of his students. As a kid, after being denied a .22 rifle by his father, he countered with a bow and arrow instead.

"I started shooting when I was 6 years old, in the basement, mostly suction cup arrows," Light, 65, said.

He got more interested for hunting purposes with a neighbor in his native Hagerstown, and by the time he was 13, Light began shooting in competitions. Once he was able to drive, his tournament participation picked up, though it tailed off a little while getting his teaching degree at Towson.

"After college, I joined the Oriole Archers in '71, and after that, it was pretty much full tilt," he said.

According to the LTRC website, Light's victory in the Maryland Archery Association FITA Field Championship in 2011 was his 90th state title, a total he added to when he won the Senior Men's Recurve competition for his age group at the Maryland Senior Olympics archery competition, held last month in Parkton.

For all the top finishes in his home state, Light finished second in both the indoor and outdoor national championships this year — his fifth runner-up performance on the national stage. He also tried out for the Olympics in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and in 2000, finishing around 20th each time, Light said.

Olympians archers have an occupation of archery, he said, but while Light has enjoyed quite a successful career, his occupation was teaching — both in the classroom and with the bow.

Shortly after his professional career began in earnest, Light, who spent 30 years as a social studies teacher at Ridgely Middle and Franklin High, started the Junior Olympic Archery Development Program with rec and parks.

He said his wife, Linda, and daughter, Erika, both shoot from time to time, but nowhere near as much as Light does.

He can take a couple dozen teens for the youth program, but Light said a combination of the popular teen novel series "The Hunger Games," and this summer's Olympic competition have helped his waiting list swell to 100 teens.

It also brought around 30 adults to the program. Light holds a weekly night session for them every Tuesday.

"I just enjoy people, so it doesn't matter whether they're kids or adults," he said. "Just seeing all of them shoot well is gratifying."

When teaching, Light said his own philosophy of competition proves useful when he's passing along the basics of the sport to his young charges.

"It may be shooting a score, but it's also being satisfied," he said. "I could win a big tournament and not be satisfied, just because it's not what I expect out of myself. Winning isn't everything, necessarily."

That philosophy is in line with that of USA Archery, from which Light has been certified as a Level 4 coach. Light says the national team program emphasizes having fun.

"It's always about the athlete first," he said. "It's never about winning."

And even though some of Light's shooters come from far away exclusively for his teachings, there's plenty of room for the casual shooter as well.

Emma Root, a junior at St. Paul's School for Girls and a Ruxton resident, is in her second year in the program. She decided to sign up after taking an interest in the sport at summer camp, and though she wasn't aware of her instructor's renown, she sang his praises as a coach.

But that doesn't take away from those who owe much more to Light.

Pete Severance, who lives just over the Catonsville line in Baltimore City, began shooting with Light in 2006 after he learned to work a bow in 4-H.

Under Light's guidance at UMBC, Severance was an Academic All-American. Now that he's graduated, he still finds time to shoot with his mother, Ann, an assistant coach at Ridgely, and Light.

"It's great, especially for the kids who are really interested in archery and want to compete," he said. "This is definitely the place to be."

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