Photo by Cody Eason, ADCNR
ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship (left) and National Wild Turkey Federation State Chapter President Craig Scruggs (back row, right) with the Alma Bryant Hurricanes archery team who took first place in the high school division of the 2022 NASP Alabama State Championship.
Archers from Mobile County came home with trophies recently from the 2022 National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) Alabama State Championship in Montgomery. Some continued a dynasty, while others are rising stars in the sport.
Alma Bryant High School captured its 12th consecutive team title. Claiming the middle school boys’ championship was Easton Cook of Saraland. They now qualify for the nationals, May 12-14 in Louisville, Kentucky.
No school has dominated the NASP tournament like the Hurricanes from Irvington. Since the program was created in 2006, the lowest they have finished was second place in 2010.
However, the streak appeared it might end this year. Going into the tournament, Bryant was ranked third in the state.
“The teams rated ahead of us were Buckhorn High in Madison County and Vinemont High in Cullman County,” said Coach Miles Wilson, who took over this year from legendary Coach Roy Richardson.
“We had wins in the past that were pushing us to succeed. We knew a win was not guaranteed. We had to earn it.”
This season was unique as all archery programs were coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament was canceled in 2020. While Bryant did add a state title in 2021, it was done in a virtual format.
“It was tough this year as we are building back from COVID,” Wilson said. “Last year, we competed at a local school and turned in results. There was not as much pressure when you are just shooting in a gym without other teams around.
“This was a new experience for about every archer on our team. The only seniors who had been to the actual state finals before were Carson Collier and Kamryn Hastings.”
Bryant, though, did come through. The Hurricanes compiled a score of 3,411. Buckhorn was second at 3,376. Vinemont was third at 3,353.
It was also a dramatic year for Wilson. Richardson, who is his stepfather, first coached archery at local middle schools in 2003 before starting the Bryant program. He retired at the start of this school year.
“I have been behind the scenes for the last three or four years,” said Wilson, who as a student won the Alabama state title in 2013 and was the national champion in 2015. “Even with as much experience as I have — going back to coaching elementary and middle school students when I was a sophomore in high school — it is a whole lot different when you are in charge. Every win and every loss has my name on it.”
Scoring for the state tournament is based on Olympic-style, target archery in three divisions — elementary, middle and high school. Competition is on team and individual levels. Perfect scores are 3,600 points for teams and 300 for individuals.
The top performers for Bryant were:
Chase Wilcox — Score: 292; High School Boys Rank: 3 out of 271; 11th Grade Boys Rank: 2 out of 64; Overall Boys Rank: 3 out of 963.
Dakota Blackledge — Score: 289; High School Girls Rank: 4 out of 254; 10th Grade Girls Rank: 1 out of 78; Overall Girls Rank: 5 out of 781.
Ian Deering — Score: 288; High School Boys Rank: 6 out of 271; 10th Grade Boys Rank: 3 out of 86; Overall Boys Rank: 7 out of 963.
Maurio Shish — Score: 287; High School Boys Rank: 7 out of 271; Ninth Grade Boys Rank: 2 out of 73; Overall Boys Rank: 9 out of 963.
Cecilia Castronova — Score: 286; High School Girls Rank: 9 out of 254; 10th Grade Girls Rank: 2 out of 78; Overall Girls Rank: 13 out of 781.
Easton Cook is in the sixth grade. He is the son of Alison and Michael Cook.
“I am super excited to represent Saraland Middle School at the upcoming national tourney,” he said.
Shooting arrows is not the only pastime for Easton. He plays travel baseball and the drums, and loves to hunt and fish along with shooting archery.
Larry Onderdonk, who was the coach at the elementary school, first introduced Easton to archery in the third grade.
“He was able to shoot some that year with the fourth- and fifth-graders to let him get a feel for what it was all about,” said his mother, who was recently named the Southern States Athletic Conference’s Softball Coach of the Year after leading the University of Mobile to a No. 1 national ranking. “Easton then found out he loved it and we started with some lessons with Josh Clarke with Coach Clarke’s Archery and he progressed from there.”
Winning the state title was not a total surprise.
“He has been very determined all year to beat his personal best of 286 and had been all around it this year,” she said. “He really practiced hard every day, not settling for reds keeping everything in the yellow [sections of the target]. He was very excited to see his hard work pay off.”
Despite his early success, Easton is not satisfied. His goal is to eventually record a 300 score.
“He also helps with the elementary team at their practices,” his mother said. “He enjoys helping kids get better at shooting. He is excited for this opportunity at the nationals and has high hopes to do well.”
Jarod Pierce, Easton’s coach at Saraland Middle School, said archery provides a special challenge for students.
“I think with archery, students’ greatest adversaries are themselves,” he said. “I see archers with great talent, focus and skill beat themselves time and time again. It is such a mental game, a science that requires perfection. A steady hand, a relaxed grip, a fixed anchor point and perfect form. Archers have to forget about poor shots and zero in on aim spots.”
He said Easton’s performance at the NASP Alabama State Competition achieved all of this.
“The ability for him to recognize his potential and approach it with nerves of steel and no hesitation makes a coach and mentor very proud, especially for his young age,” Pierce said.
“Achievement like Easton’s brings great recognition and interest in not only our archery program here at Saraland Middle School, but to our other extracurriculars as well. Programs like archery give kids a sense of accomplishment and ambition. I am very proud of Easton.”
Mobile County had others bring home honors. In the Individual Elementary School Males division, the top finishers were Briggs Renfroe of Castlen Elementary, 278; Gunnar Couch of Breitling Elementary, 269; and Mason Branch of Dawes Intermediate, 268.
In the Elementary School Team Division, St. Luke’s finished in third place. In the Individual Elementary School Females Division, Stefany Garcia of Dixon Elementary finished third with a score of 265.
Complete results for the 2022 NASP Alabama State Championship are available at nasptournaments.org.
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