As they ascend towards the line, archers from the Sardis Enrichment School prepare their bows and focus on the targets ahead. Parents eagerly watch each student breathe and throw their arrows in one quick movement.
Over the past five years, children from grades three to five in Sardis have been able to experience the thrill of archery.
Frank Barroqueiro, the student coach, has been leading the Sardis archery team since its inception. Barroqueiro said he practiced archery as a therapeutic sport after being injured overseas in the US military. He ended up competing with the army archery team, before training young archers in Sardis.
Barroqueiro said archery season usually starts in October, where students first learn to shoot safely and hit their targets. Then they prepare for three different types of tournaments: indoor, outdoor and outdoor in 3D.
For indoor archery, students line up to hit targets 10 or 20 yards away – depending on their age group – and can only use five arrows. Outdoor archery involves shooting at a target at a longer distance across a field. A 3D outdoor tournament involves shooting foam replicas of wild animals.
At Sardis, Barroqueiro said he trains individually with each student to make sure they are safe and having fun.
Ty Gammon, 9, is currently at the archery club, following in the footsteps of his two older brothers.
“My friends were doing it and I went to archery tournaments with my brothers,” Ty said. “And, it looked so fun because we walked around the woods and shot with our friends and faced our friends.”
Once students leave Sardis, they can continue to hone their archery skills and compete at Chestatee Middle School and Chestatee High School.
Brayden Spaduzzi, who is 14, said he started at Sardis under Barroqueiro at the start of the program and even placed third in local tournaments. Now he and his brother play for the Chestatee High archery team.
“I like the fact that it’s not just a one-person business,” Brayden said. “You do it with friends, and it’s not solo.”
Over the years, Barroqueiro has said that several of his students have made it to the top 10 in state archery championships. Most recently, he said that Lilian McAlister, who is entering seventh grade, placed first in state tournaments for outdoor and 3D outdoor.
12-year-old Olivia Speaks is on her way to a national competition after recently winning third place in a state tournament for the Young Women Archery Hunter category. She started archery in fifth grade, quickly learning the sport.
“It feels good to shoot well,” said Olivia. “When you first get it, it’s pretty hard to figure everything out. But, once you get the hang of it, you can get really good pretty quickly. “
Brayden’s mother Carrie Spaduzzi said the sport taught her two sons important life skills like persistence, self-discipline and patience.
“I am grateful for this sport as it focuses on the whole person and becomes a complete individual, which will wear it for many years to come,” said Spaduzzi.
Barroqueiro said the Sardis club have grown in popularity in recent years. About forty students join the team each season and the club even has a waiting list. Barroqueiro has said he hopes to be able to coach anyone who wants to join the team. However, he said his main goal was to work individually with each student.
Barroqueiro said one of his student’s fathers told him how archery changed his daughter’s experience at school. He said the father mentioned his daughter had gone from being harassed to someone her peers admire.
“For me, it’s just the joy of sharing archery with kids,” said Barroqueiro. “And, seeing how their confidence grows and how many of them will find a sport they can compete in.”
Life Editor Kelsey Podo contributed to this article.