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High School Club Helps Disabled Hunters Fulfill Dreams

December 4, 1994

REND CITY, Ill. (AP) _ Larry Muzzy thought his hunting days were over after he lost the use of his legs in a 1979 car wreck.

But for the last five years, he has been riding into the forest on the strong, young shoulders of teen-agers.

″Without these kids, I wouldn’t be able to do what I love doing, and that’s getting into the woods,″ said Muzzy, 40, who weighs about 150 pounds. ″When I got paralyzed, I never thought I would hunt again.″

A high school club is helping disabled hunters like Muzzy go into the woods, build hiding places, track wounded deer, and skin and gut the animals.

Before dawn one chilly day at Rend Lake in south-central Illinois, 17-year- old Jeff Patchett waited to take Muzzy out of a wheelchair and onto his back for a half-mile hike into the forest.

With a grin, Muzzy grabbed his rifle: ″I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll.″

The Outdoorsmen’s Club at the 200-student Sesser-Valier High School has gotten national recognition for helping disabled hunters pursue their passion. Its supporters include guitarist and hunting fan Ted Nugent. The group also recycles, studies wildlife and maintains an apple orchard.

And it’s competitive. Freshman can’t join, sophomores must do a long list of projects, and upperclassmen have to stick to an environmental code of conduct or get the boot.

″Our goal is to teach kids how much work is involved in taking care of our planet,″ said Gene Morgan, a biology teacher and club founder. ″If they do all their work, then they get to do the fun things, like working the deer hunt, snow skiing, mountain climbing, whitewater canoeing.″

Taking hunters out into the woods at 5 a.m. is fun?

″Yeah, that’s considered one of the fun things,″ Morgan said, laughing. ″The kids wouldn’t miss it for anything. It’s an unbelievable rush.″ During the November deer season, about 30 handicapped hunters were helped by 50 club members. On Friday, more than two-dozen youngsters waited on 11 hunters.

Members can develop strong bonds with their hunters.

″When your hunter leaves and you hug him and he’s all excited, you’re kind of sad,″ said Deidra Dame, 17. ″They’re just so happy you helped them.″

And they can learn something from them, too.

″One night we were driving, and there was a full moon, and I told Larry it looked like it was going to a real good day,″ Patchett recalled.

″Larry said any day he’s above ground is a good day for him. That makes you think. What really can we face that’s adverse compared to what these guys face every day?″

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