By Christopher Smith
Braxton Bates says he knows two things for sure: he’s good at archery and, even if he wasn’t, his dad-turned-coach would still love him.
“He told me, ‘Do your best,’” Braxton, 12, said of Woodlawn Elementary School archery coach Brad Bates. “He said, ‘No matter how you do — if you don’t even shoot an arrow at the target — I still love you. No matter what.’”
Hitting a target with an arrow isn’t a problem for the Woodlawn sixth-grader. Braxton placed second among sixth-grade males at the 2013 National Archery in the Schools Program World Championship with Woodlawn’s top individual score of 287.
Each student shot 30 arrows: 15 arrows at 10 meters away from the target and 15 arrows at 15 meters away. A bull’s-eye meant 10 points, which means a possible 300 points for each archer.
The international competition of 3,043 elementary-aged students from 184 schools was held at the Edward Jones Dome at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis June 28-30.
“Yeah. We got to shoot in the St. Louis Rams’ football stadium,” Braxton said with a wide grin, even though he’s no Rams fan. “I still thought that was real cool.”
What’s really cool is the combined score Woodlawn received at the end of the tournament, said sixth-grader Alyssa Lavaina, whose score of 282 placed her fourth among sixth-grade girls. Each school brought 12 to 24 archers with the top 12 scores representing each school. Woodlawn’s total score was 3,320 — a record at the tournament.
“That was pretty awesome,” Alyssa said. “There’s not many people who can say they are the best in the world.”
Did they expect to be world champs?
“Yeah,” several of the young archers said.
It’s that kind of easygoing team attitude Coach Bates said is a factor in winning.
“A person who isn’t in this doesn’t understand the pressure,” he said. “I’ve seen kids walk away crying. The sport can get to them mentally if they let it. This team didn’t let that happen.”
Ella Lance, the fourth grade female runner-up with a score of 279, said she turned off the pressure by “clearing the mechanism,” a term she learned from watching “For Love of the Game.” The 1999 movie shows how a fictional Major League Baseball pitcher overcomes the pressure of his career by focusing on each individual pitch.
“My mom showed me the move right before the tournament,” Ella said. “That’s where I heard ‘clearing the mechanism.’ It means clear everything out and just focus on that one thing (the target) and do your best. Take a couple of deep breaths and think, ‘You’re here, you might as well make the best of it.’”
Alyssa said she was able to focus more when she pretended she was inside the Woodlawn gym.
“That’s what kept me calm,” she said.
Luke Headrick, a third-grader who got a waiver from tournament officials to play in the fourth-grade division, was also able to turn the pressure off. He placed fourth in the division with a score of 280.
“It doesn’t matter that I was younger than everyone else,” he said. “I stayed focused.”
Coach Bates said focus only comes from practice.
“We’ve pushed and we’ve gone to every tournament to get them prepared,” he said. “I think it’s worked.”
The proud coach said he would argue that the Woodlawn Timberwolves are the best elementary archery team in the history of the sport. If someone looked at the gym wall, which details the team’s four-year history, they might agree.
The Timberwolves have won the state tournament each year since 2010, have brought home two national titles and are the only team to ever post a score above 3,300 at the world tournament.
“I could not be any more proud of a group of archers than I am of this one,” Coach Bates said. “They worked hard and dedicated themselves to getting better and it paid off. Our team members will look back on this season years from now with a great sense of pride and realize what they actually did.”