Coach’s Outdoor Skills Class Wins Big at West Ashley High

If you wish you could go hunting and fishing, but … low-key … need to brush up on a few outdoor skills, West Ashley High School Coach Thomas Cousins gets it. During his twenty-plus years as a coach and teacher, he’s come across plenty of teenagers who turn down outdoor opportunities simply because they’re not sure about the basics.

“We teach our kids how to play sports. Why don’t we teach them life-long skills like hunting and fishing?” says Coach Cousins, physical education department chair and teacher of the Outdoor Pursuits class at West Ashley High.

With the help of Coach Cousins, students have taken their outdoor skills into the field . . . hunting, fishing and camping. Many have joined the Clay Busters skeet shooting team or the West Ashley archery team.

For decades, athletes and coaches have turned to Cousins for his guidance on the football field. But Coach Cousins has set aside his playbook for a while and has now set his focus on the hundreds of students who are waiting in line for a spot in his outdoor skills class. They want to try out or reinforce what they know about hunting, fishing and boating. They want to learn how to build a fire, use a compass, pitch a tent or identify native wildlife species.

Here’s what Cousins, his students and SCDNR law enforcement Sergeant Jim Shelton have to say about the Outdoor Pursuits class at West Ashley High School.

Coach Thomas Cousins:

Coach Cousins and his Outdoor Pursuits students take safety lessons learned in the classroom out on the sporting clays course.

What the Outdoor Pursuits class did, personally, is that it made me love teaching again. I’ve taught English, P.E., weight lifting … and coached college and high school football for twenty-five years. I retired from coaching two years ago, and now I do this full time. I wouldn’t trade my football career for anything, but this class has really filled that void.

I teach three classes during the school day. We cover hunting safety and boating safety, marksmanship, survival training, archery, firearm safety, camping and backpacking, tracking and wildlife conservation — and there are a lot of people who are willing to help. A lot of our kids never do this stuff … to expose them to fishing, hunting, archery and firearm safety is special. Some of my best students are the ones who have never done anything like this. If I can teach one kid how to safely handle a firearm and prevent one accident, it’s worth my time.

I’ve had numerous schools contact me to replicate my class. You can run this two ways: through the P.E. department or the Ag department. It takes some planning and preparation, but the SCDNR, NWTF and other organizations offer resources that are helpful.

Ninety percent of the equipment was mine in the beginning. It costs some money to get gear and supplies for the class. If teachers go through the National Archery in the Schools training, they get the bows and arrows and targets. And you can ask kids to bring in fishing poles. The QDMA Lowcountry branch has helped me put on some fundraisers, and SCDNR Sergeant Jim Shelton does his best to help. The Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund has provided funding for class supplies as well.

This class was the catalyst for the archery and shotgun teams that I coach. The growth has been tremendous! Both teams now compete at the local and state level.

You have to have the right principal and the right teacher willing to get certified with the knowledge to teach this. If we teach one person, then they teach their brothers and sisters and cousins and so on.

West Ashley Clay Busters ladies’ team took third place at the SCDNR’s 2018 skeet shooting tournament in Edgefield.

West Ashley High School student remarks:

West Ashley H.S. student Hannah Bagley:

In Coach Cousins’ Outdoor Pursuits class, we are doing a segment on tracking. Coach split us into groups to let us search for animal tracks in the woods. This activity is supposed to help us understand what animal tracks really look like in nature. This class teaches us what it’s like to appreciate the outdoors … a lost art. People don’t appreciate what the world has to offer us, and in a classroom setting we are able to experience all of the activities that our ancestors did as their daily lifestyle.

West Ashley H.S. student Kelly Keen:

As a QDMA member, Coach Cousins nominated me for one of the few spots on the National Youth Hunt. He generously recommended me — and allowed me to go on one of the best trips of my life. The deer hunt was amazing! One of the best things I’ve ever done!

Coach Cousins is Outdoor Pursuits. He gives students like me who have a passion for the outdoors an outlet for enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer. He also gives students who have never experienced the outdoors a chance to expand their horizons and try new things they will most likely come to love and cherish. Outdoor Pursuits connects all types of students with many interests, including archery, fishing, boating, hunting, firearm safety, valuable survival skills, etc. Coach Cousins connects with his students on personal levels and teaches them new ways to enjoy and respect the great outdoors. Without Coach Cousins, the program wouldn’t be the way it is at West Ashley High School.SCDNR Sergeant Jim Shelton’s remarks:

Remarks from SCDNR Sergeant Jim Shelton:

Coach Cousins spends as much time with his kids involved in archery and shooting sports than anyone I know. Most weekends he’s off at an event pertaining to what he loves, spending time with the youth of our state. He sometimes spends more time on the road with other children than his own. He has won numerous awards which still don’t add up to the amount of time he has spent trying to educate kids about the outdoors and its beauty. The kids who have had the chance to spend time with him are better for it. Many times his lessons are about life and being a better person. In closing, I have seen Coach at times be a teacher, coach, parent and shoulder to lean on for the kids he so loves. He continues to give tirelessly every day!