A single target leans against the far end of the wall, opposite the young girl. Shaking her caramel brown hair out of her face, she takes aim. Raising her bow, she positions it at her side, the hand drawing the string just brushing her right cheek, she aligns it with her destination.

Even though she is the last archer to shoot in the 9-11 age bracket, she doesn’t let that faze her. Waiting in anticipation, parents, coaches and judges watch the girl as she holds the bow steady, her grip never waning. Suddenly she releases the arrow. The long, sharp, pointed object shoots from her hand across the gymnasium and strikes the target just north of center.

On Friday, the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds hosted this year’s National Archery in Schools State Tournament, a program created for students from 4th to 12th grade. By participating in the sport, students learn discipline, patience, focus and self-control, along with lessons required for success beyond just the classroom.

“I think it’s just a good discipline sport, and it makes the kids focus,” says Whitney Cunum, a coach from Valdese Elementary, “whereas other sports you just do it. This, they have to be really focused; they have to be honed in on what they are shooting at. They’re listening for those whistle commands; it just helps them to calm down so that they can be the best shooter that they can be.” 

Whistle commands or blasts are a set of signals that are given for archers to follow in the shooting range. One blast lets archers know they can begin, while two whistles mean that archers should move to the shooting line. And three toots instruct the archers to stop shooting immediately.

The competition began just a little after 1 p.m.— with teams comprised of students in 4th and 5th grade. A variety of different elementary schools entered the tournament such as the Eagles of George Hildbrand Elementary, Dudley Shoals, Husky of Forest Hill Elementary, Valdese Elementary, Startown Elementary, Baton Elementary, Balls Creek Elementary, Drexel Elementary, Sunshine Elementary and Icard Elementary.

As each archery team begins to reload and fire their next set of arrows, attempting to make a bullseye, Cunum speaks about the bond between the students.

“You’re a part of a team and you work together,” Cunum says. “This is an individual sport, but you still have to work together as a team, especially encouraging each other and showing one another support.”

Minutes before the competition starts, a small girl with golden hair tied in a ponytail runs over to her mother who stands near the bleachers. Her small eyebrows are knit together, and a frown is plastered on her face. The mother kneels in front of her daughter with a look of concern.

Softly, the girl’s mom places her hands on the sides of her arms and speaks words of encouragement. Only after a bone-crushing hug does a small smile spread across the girl’s face. With new-found reassurance, she makes her way back over to her team excitedly.

Stacy Springroll, a mother of one the Eagle archers, says her son worked hard to make the cut.

“This is his first year, he’s eligible to do it, age-wise,” she says. “Then there is a tryout process, and the PE teacher has to choose them. “

A father wearing a ballcap seated at one end of the bleachers, Trevor Gooden, attempts to communicate with his son Tristen through hand gestures, trying to convey a quote from Star Wars. He whisper-shouts, “May the force be with you.”

“Once he got into archery,” Trevor says, “he’d seen it and thought he would probably be well at it. He just picked up the bow — a regular bow and was very good at it. We invested into a good bow and spent some time with him and got him what he needs to better himself. He’s been excelling ever since. His coach says that he’s the most gifted archery student that he ever coached. Just picked up the bow and did not have any training.”

Archer Tristen Gooden (Left) poses for a photo with fellow Husky teammate (Right). (Photo by Rachel Spinella)  

A fifth grader for the Husky archery team, Tristen tied with Josh Lutz for fourth place in his age group, scoring a total of 262 points.

“I think the best part about being a coach is seeing the growth,” Cunum says. “You know, when they are in tryouts, as a coach I’m looking for if they can group. If they can group, they can move that group anywhere they want to put it.”

A group is when an archer is able to shoot a series of arrows close together.

Archers preparing their equipment for the tournament. (Photo by Rachel Spinella)

Placing in third, was the Dudley Shoals Elementary, with the Eagles from George Hildbrand Elementary taking second place and Startown placing in first place.

The finalists in the individual boy’s archery category were Gavin Starnes, Seth Harrell and Jayden Yang takes first.

Coming in at first place for the girl’s individual archery competition is Andrea Ibbaro, succeeding Audrina Buchanan and Rylee Styers in third.

The young female archer with caramel brown hair, eyes narrowed as she processed where the arrow had landed. With a small grin on her face, she turned away from the range and strode over to the rest of her teammates who were cheering and bouncing with happiness.

For more information about the tournament go to the National Archery in the School’s Tournament website.

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