April 17, 2014
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The Cramton Bowl Multiplex was teeming with teenagers and sporadically filled with an odd-sounding staccato of popping noises recently.
Those teenagers were on a quest to win a title for their respective schools as 1,255 athletes from around the state competed in the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) Alabama State Championship.
Those popping noises occurred during the two minutes each flight had to fire five arrows at the targets that lined both sides of the Multiplex. The championship was the culmination of seven regional competitions that sent the state’s best school archers to Montgomery for the impressive finale.
The archers competed in three divisions – elementary, middle school and high school. There were male and female categories for individual titles. Participants scored 10 for an arrow in the bull’s-eye circle, descending by one point for each lesser ring. A perfect score for the championship was 300, and several archers came close.
Chase Roberts of Ashville High was crowned male high school champ with a score of 293. Roberts prevailed on a tiebreaker with Miles Wilson of Alma Bryant High, who also shot 293. Cole Coultas of Buckhorn High shot a 292 to finish third.
Chirsti Bone of Alma Bryant was the top female shooter in the high school division with a 290, followed by Aubrie Tharpe of Alma Bryant and Sarah Peavey of Asbury High, both with 287.
The middle schoolers and elementary boys weren’t far behind. David Vance of Buckhorn Middle, Matthew Burns of Susan Moore High (8th grade) and Michael Killian of Foley Middle all shot 289 and were separated by tiebreakers on the number of bull’s-eyes hit. Maria Owen and Shelby Anderson, both of Foley Middle, shot 287, while Anna Brooke Garrett had a 284 for Arab Junior High. Connor Thames of Saraland Elementary shot 286, followed by Jabe Burgess of Ashville Middle at 282 and Louis Villanova of Fairhope Intermediate at 274. The top three elementary girls – Kristina Oshiro of Riverton Intermediate, Mary Stoltze of Troy Elementary and Kylie Westbrook of Arab Elementary – all shot 266.
In the team competition, Alma Bryant continued its dominance in the high school division with a stellar 3,435 total for its top 12 shooters. It was the eighth title for Coach Roy Richardson’s archers.
“We’re still chasing the national title,” Richardson said after Alma Bryant prevailed over Ashville High (which won the title in 2010) at 3,394 and Buckhorn High at 3,386. “We got on stage last year in third place. We held first until the last flight last year. The score we shot (at Montgomery) is the second-best score we’ve had, and it’s going to put us within 12 points of the No. 1 team in the country. So we’ve got to come up with 12 points between now and the nationals. We had some kids who were down today and are very, very good shooters. I know they’re going to look in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to pick up the slack next time.’”
Although teams can only bring 24 shooters to the state championship, Richardson said he never tells anyone they’re out of the program.
“Team is a very temporary thing,” he said. “It’s only good for one tournament. Anybody has a chance to knock the next person out of the saddle. I used the regional scores to determine who gets to go to state. When we get back home, anybody who didn’t shoot a 280 or above will have to shoot against others who are still trying to make the team.”
In the middle school competition, Buckhorn Middle prevailed with a 3,298 score, followed by Ashville Middle at 3,278 and Foley Middle at 3,271.
Melanie Coultas, coach at Buckhorn Middle and High School, said the teams are relatively new to NASP, winning the middle school title in its third year of competition and taking third in high schools in its fourth year.
“This program is awesome for the kids,” Coultas said. “The kids love it. We teach it in PE (Physical Education), and when we have tryouts, we’ll have more than 100 kids show up. We’ll usually trim that down to 36, although only 24 can go to the state or nationals. We go from November until the nationals in May. So during the year, the kid that is 36th could move up to No. 10.”
Saraland Elementary was the top team in the elementary school competition with 3,066 points, followed by Arab Elementary at 3,015 and Gilliard Elementary at 3,001.
Ellen Talbot is the first-year coach at Saraland Elementary, but she takes no credit for this team’s success, offering the credit to a team of coaches, including last year’s coach, Carmon Nitteberg.
“The kids are awesome,” Talbot said. “It’s a great community sport. All the parents are so helpful. It’s a group effort. I come from a hunting family, but I’ve never shot a bow in competition. They asked me last fall if I would help out. I got certified and started coaching the elementary team. I loved it and never looked back.
“Everywhere we go people are so impressed with the way these kids carry themselves and how calm they are under pressure. This is the most pressure-filled situation they’ve ever been in, and this is the best they’ve ever shot. For fourth- and fifth-graders, I told them they had accomplished more than some people do in a lifetime.”
Some coaches were just glad to witness the state competition.
Jody Ryan of Houston Academy near Dothan said his daughter heard about the archery program from a relative in North Carolina. The team decided to participate this year, and Ryan is glad it did.
“Even the regional shoot at Ozark was a wonderful experience, and the kids loved it,” Ryan said. “This is some kind of show right here. This is a lot of hard work and dedication. You can feel the excitement.”
Scott Berry, coach at Fairhope High, said the state competition really impressed his team.
“The students walked in with big eyes obviously with this big of a venue,” Berry said. “Our regional was in our home gym, so it wasn’t a big deal. They come here and see the enormous amount of people and the number of targets. I think Fairhope is sold on the program. We’re talking to the city about developing an outdoor range. The parents are really excited about the opportunity.”
Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Coordinator for Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, which oversees the archery program, said that more than 2,700 kids participated in this year’s regional competitions, a significant leap from the advent of the program. The Alabama Department of Education helped identify pilot schools and helped facilitate the program’s growth.
“This program started in 2003 with 16 schools,” Futral said. “Now we have 320 schools and it’s amazing to me how much it grows each year. We’re adding 50 to 60 schools a year. It looks like we may have to move up to eight regional events next year. Of course, we only have room for so many at state, so we’re at max capacity for a one-day event. But everybody who makes the team at school gets to shoot if they come to a regional. We let schools bring as many kids as they want to the regionals. We had some schools bring 50 to 60 kids to the regionals. Only 24 per team can come to state and advance to nationals (May 9-10 in Louisville, Ky.).”
Futral said Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries is able to provide some money to schools for equipment through proceeds from license sales and the Wildlife Restoration Act. The Archery Trade Association and Bowhunters of Alabama also provide support.
“Our goal is to introduce kids to a life sport, a life sport that they can do outside from the time they’re in the third or fourth grade all the way until they’re 95,” she said. “Archery is something they can do for fun, competition or hunting, and it gets them outdoors.”
PHOTOS: (By Billy Pope) Archers from Alma Bryant High School let the arrows fly during the National Archery in Schools Program Alabama State Championship in Montgomery. Ashville High’s Charles Hannaway and Alicia Hare show an impressive round of arrows in the bull’s-eye.