Look into the eyes of an archery athlete and you will only see a target.
Siegel Middle and High School archery coach and the school’s SRO Mark McWhirter instructs a student in the finer points of the sport. (Photo by D. Gardonia)
In this sport, they have to aim with specialized bows in order to hit the bulls-eye, and get the highest amount of points possible. Oh, and they have to do it with an opponent standing nearby, sometimes in front of a large, loud crowd.
“It takes a lot of correct practice and developing that muscle memory of the doing the same thing,” Siegel Middle and High School coach and the school’s SRO Mark McWhirter described during one of the team’s practices last week. “Archery is doing the same thing over and over again. It just takes practice.”
One of the top local high school athletes in the sport, Siegel High sophomore Jeremy Harris, describes the nerve-racking action this way.
“If you are shooting with a bunch of people, you cannot let it get you down, especially if they are shooting better than you are,” Harris said. “You’ve just got to have the mental and physical strength to pull your bow back and shoot.”
Harris is one of the best in the state in a young sport that held its first Tennessee state championship for students in elementary, middle and high school six years ago with only 12 teams competing.
Now it has grown to more than 250 schools.
Back on April 3 and 4, the National Archery in Schools Program, which along with the TWRA runs the sport since it is not recognized by the TSSAA, held the sixth annual Tennessee State Championships at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro. Several local schools used the homefield advantage, and some of the area teams and participants shot well enough to earn a spot to the 2012 NASP National Tournament, which will be held in May in Louisville, Ky.
During the tournament, each shooter got 15 rounds each from 10 meters and 15 more rounds from 15 meters, while aiming at a target that is scored from one point for hitting the outer circle and 10 points from a bull’s eye. Perfect score is 300.
The Siegel Middle and High School teams had the ultimate advantage with the Miller Coliseum right across the street on Thompson Lane, and during that week they proved once again why the Siegel schools are some of the best in the state. Its high school team finished fifth in the state and qualified for nationals next month, while the middle school also had a top 10 finish in its division, eighth.
“I am very proud of my team, they did a lot better than I thought they would,” McWhirter said. The Siegel high school team will be making its sixth trip to nationals.
The Stars were led by three of the top marksmen on the state high school level. In the girls high school division, Siegel junior Leanetta Anderson almost won another state title, but fell by a single point to freshman Bledsoe County shooter Haley Corder by a score of 282 to 281.
Anderson was not a practice that day, but McWhirter thinks very highly of her.
“She is terrific young lady,” McWhirter said of the Louisiana transplant, who moved to Murfreesboro after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “It has been fun to watch her come out of her shell from when she first came here. She is one of the ones I got that can block everything out and continue shooting. I call her my machine. In practice, you will never see her vary in her technique. It if fun to watch.”
Anderson won the state title as a seventh grader, and she did not pick up the sport until her sixth grade year.
Anderson’s teammate Laura Kulp was third with 276 points. In the boys high school division, Harris finished 3rd with 282 points.
In the middle school level, Rockvale Middle took home the state title thanks to performances by Michael Harris (1st-Boys) and Michael Maier (4th-Boys).
Buchanan was crowned the elementary school state champion, which included top finishers from that school, Natalie Hester (4th-Girls) and Hannah Ridgeway (5th-Girls). Christiana finished runner-up and Rockvale was fourth. Several local athletes in that division advanced to nationals next month.
The first place teams, the teams meeting the division qualifying score, and the top five female and male individuals from each division qualified for the NASP National Tournament, according to a press release from the TWRA after the tournament.