After being postponed last year due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics opened Friday, July 23, as people from all over the world began to tune in to watch the best of the best compete for gold in Japan.
Among the high-profile athletes competing in popular sports such as swimming and gymnastics, three former Georgia 4-H’ers will make the flight across the Pacific to represent the U.S. in shooting sports.
James Hall of Carroll County, Vincent Hancock of Putnam County, and Katelyn Abeln of Douglas County all got their start in the Georgia 4-H Project SAFE shooting sports program. This program, which uses shooting sports to teach life skills and firearm safety to students, helps 4-H’ers find community, learn about teamwork and fine-tune their concentration.
“The skills these students acquire are irreplaceable. Of course they learn about safety, but they develop soft skills such as communication and goal setting. Having this development at a young age lays a foundation for future success for Project SAFE participants,” explained Faye Belflower, the volunteer air-pistol coach for Georgia 4-H.
James Hall, Carroll County
James Hall is set to compete on the U.S. National Team in air pistol. While Hall’s mother was anti-gun growing up, she wanted her children to learn about firearm safety, so she signed them up for the Georgia 4-H Project SAFE.
“She ended up being a 4-H coach and sent three of her four boys off to college on athletic/academic scholarships for shooting,” said James Hall, now the director of development for the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF).
Vincent Hancock, Putnam County
Vincent Hancock will return to the range for the men’s skeet shotgun competition. Hancock, now a resident of Fort Worth, Texas, has previously won two Olympic gold medals, as well as a silver medal in men’s skeet and a gold in the skeet mixed team last month at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Italy.
“And as a small-town Georgia boy, who never thought he would ever really leave the Southeast, traveling all over and talking to different people and experiencing different cultures, I am very thankful that I had what I had to be able to do what I am doing now,” Hancock said.
Katelyn Abeln, Douglas County
Katelyn Abeln, a second-year student at The Ohio State University, is an alternate for the UGA women’s sport and air pistol team on the National Junior Team. She won the women’s division of the National Junior Olympic Air Pistol Championship (NJOSC) last month.
Georgia 4-H Project SAFE gave these Olympic competitors a start in a sport that has changed their lives. It provided opportunities to travel, find community and pursue higher education, and while they will be representing the red, white and blue during the 2020 Games, it’s safe to say there is a little green and white in their hearts.
Georgia 4-H empowers youth to become true leaders by developing necessary life skills, positive relationships and community awareness. As the largest youth leadership organization in the state, 4-H reaches more than 190,000 people annually through University of Georgia Cooperative Extension offices and 4-H facilities.