As the accolades keep coming for Columbia Academy's archery program, one team member in particular has received an exceptional honor. Bella Rowell, the daughter of Brandon Rowell and Courtney Pittman, received notice last week that she's been selected as the winner of Rush Foundation Hospital's Athlete of the Year Award.
The award was earned through Rowell's performance over the summer in the State Games of Mississippi, during which she competed in both archery and 3D archery. Rowell placed first among all female junior high students in regular archery competition and second among all junior high students, male and female, in 3D competition.
The honor comes just three years after she picked up a bow for the first time. Rowell has also competed in soccer, softball and ballet, but she couldn't pass up the opportunity to join the archery program once she reached the age to do so.
"I've done a few other things, but when I got up to the grade where I could finally join the archery team and I noticed a lot of my friends signing up for it, I was like, 'I think I want to try this out,'" Rowell said.
Entering her fourth year as a member of the team and her first as a high school competitor, Rowell has worked her way up the ranks as one of the most accomplished archers in the region. Head coach Mike Barber, who has lost count of all the medals and plaques she's won, said she'll only continue to improve as she invests more time into working on her craft.
"We have a lot of great archers on our team, and Bella is certainly one of them," Barber said. "She's won so many things that I've lost track of it all at this point, but she's doing a terrific job. The fun part is that she'll just keep getting better from here, so I can't wait to see what that looks like."
Rowell credits much of her success to the opportunity to compete alongside Barber and her friends in a program that truly works to bring the best out of each and every student rather than just handing them a bow and letting them learn on their own. She believes her coach's passion for the sport and willingness to put in the extra time with each student is what makes the program so successful year after year.
"I think a lot of it comes down to how you teach your students," Rowell said. "Coach Mike doesn't just put us on the line and say, 'Shoot.' He watches all of us really closely and pays attention to what we do. He gives us a lot of feedback and makes sure that we understand what he's trying to teach us. He's taught me a lot, so I'm really glad we have the chance to learn from him."
Rowell will attend a banquet in Meridian later this month to be recognized for her accomplishment, at which time the Overall Rush Foundation will announced the winners of male, female and youth athletes of the year. Last year's youth winner went on to be selected as National Athlete of the Year by the National Congress of State Games, an honor that will be up for grabs among this year's athletes as well.
Though she hopes to achieve much more over the course of her next four years with the Cougars' archery program, Rowell says her primary focus for the time being is to top what she's already accomplished by breaking her own personal best score.
"One thing I'd really like to do is to reach a score of 295 of higher. The highest score you can possibly get is 300," Rowell said. "So far, the closest I've ever gotten is 289. Not many people reach 295, so I think it'd be really cool to reach that mark."