Benton has truly made its mark in the world of archery.
Both elementary and middle school teams placed first at the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) world tournament, putting the Bossier Parish town on the map once again. Last year, Benton had the first elementary team in Louisiana to ever win a NASP world title.
This year, the town of Benton welcomed home two world champion teams this summer. It’s a feat that few can say they have accomplished. In fact, Robert Stroede, Archery in Louisiana Schools (ALAS) state coordinator, said it’s very rare to have two schools in the same town win world titles at the world tournament.
“When you have more than 12,000 schools in the program in the U.S. alone, for a school to repeat as champions this far into the program is rare. When we were just getting started, I would say it was more common, although I don’t know if it has ever happened before,” Stroede said. “It is highly unlikely at this point to see the same schools in the same district take home multiple world championships. There are some schools in Kentucky that have been doing this since 2001 and were powerhouses. I can tell you now those people in Kentucky are wondering where these Louisiana kids came from.”
More than 5,000 individual competitors from the United States, South Africa, Namibia, United Kingdom, and Canada attended the tournament last month in Nashville, Tenn.
Emma Bunch, a 5th grader from Benton Elementary, was crowned the 2015 NASP World Champion in the girls, elementary school division. Bunch, 11, received a medal, plaque, target and a sapphire bow, one of six handed out to the top male and female shooters in each of the three divisions. Bunch shot a total score of 292, just 8 points from perfection and beat out 669 other elementary schools females to take home top honors.
Elementary coach Perry Norcross said having two world championship titles is simply exciting. However, there’s still some unfinished business to take care of.
“We have to get that national title next,” he said, beaming with pride.
Benton Middle School coaches Terrie Streetman and Jessica Benoit said their student athletes have come a long way since the program started eight years ago. The program has grown substantially in not only numbers, but in talent.
Many of the team’s shooters from the 2014 world champion elementary team were part of this year’s middle school team. After placing first at the state tournament and third at the national level, they knew they had pretty good chances at the world title.
“We know how good they are, but we never know how good the other teams will be,” Streetman said. “We were very excited about their performances at the state and national level.”
This was the middle school team’s first time shooting at the world tournament. Their message to the team going into the competition was to stay focused and have fun.
“We didn’t want to put any extra pressure on them,” Benoit said. “They have done it before and practiced hard for this. We wanted them to do their best and have fun doing it.”
The team shot very early in the competition day and knew the score other teams had to beat. The anticipation, at times, was almost unbearable.
“We checked our phones just about every hour,” Benoit joked.
Once all of the scores were in, Benton Middle School did come out on top, beating the two teams who placed higher than them at the national tournament. Anna Robins, a 6th grader from Benton Middle School was awarded 4th place in the middle school girls division. Anna shot a 289 and out-shot 956 other female middle school archers, many of them 7th and 8th graders.
So what’s next for Benton Middle? They, too, have some unfinished business.
“We’re going to keep practicing and we want that first place at nationals,” Streetman said. “I think we can have a repeat performance at worlds, too.”
Four members of the middle school team will move up to Benton’s high school team this school year.
Benoit added: “The only things that could make it sweeter is a clean sweep at the world tournament. I can really see that happening in our future. These athletes just keep getting better and better.”
Both elementary and middle school coaches thanked the parents, community and sponsors for their support of the teams.
Archery in Louisiana Schools (ALAS) is a part of the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). Its purpose is to introduce students in grades 4-12 to international target style archery and, as the name states, is designed to be taught as part of the in-school curriculum.
Students at schools who teach the ALAS curriculum are eligible to compete in State, National and World tournaments. Louisiana has more than 100 schools involved in the sport as compared to the thousands in Texas and other states, Stroede said.
“We are one of the smaller states participating yet we have brought home two out of the three world championships,” Stroede said, receiving a thunderous applause from the crowd.
NASP isn’t designed to be a competitive sport, though. Stroede said it’s about giving children an opportunity to experience archery and to see what it can do for them in the long run.
“Archery is a sport that really brings a community together,” Stroede said. “We would love to see more kids get involved and not just to be world champions. We see how archery affects these kids through life.”
ALAS is a program that looks to inspire confidence through focus and discipline of the sport. The sport of archery is a great way to get students involved in not only a life long sport, but also in their school, and into the outdoors.
Stroede sees a lot of potential in Benton’s future.
“They have a great foundation, great support from the community, coaches that spend a lot of time helping them,” Stroede said. “This has almost become part of the culture in Benton. Archery is part of this community and it’s great to see people get behind them. I hope they keep doing it for a long time to come.”