Stepping up to the line, archers from Sardis Enrichment School ready their bows and focus on the targets ahead. Parents watch with anticipation as each student takes a breath and launches their arrows in one swift motion.
Over the past five years, kids from third to fifth grade at Sardis have been able to experience the thrill of archery.
Frank Barroqueiro, the students’ coach, has been leading the Sardis archery team since its inception. Barroqueiro said he practiced archery as a therapeutic sport after being wounded overseas in the U.S. Army. He ended up competing with the Army’s archery team, later going on to coach young archers at Sardis.
Barroqueiro said archery season typically begins in October, where students first learn how to safely shoot their bows and hit their targets. Afterward, they prepare for three different types of tournaments: indoors, outdoors and 3D outdoors.
For indoor archery, students line up to hit targets 10 or 20 yards away — depending on their age group — and can use only five arrows. Outdoor archery involves shooting at a target at a longer distance across a field. A 3D outdoor tournament entails shooting at foam replicas of wild animals.
At Sardis, Barroqueiro said he practices individually with each student to ensure they’re being safe and having fun.
Ty Gammon, who is 9 years old, is currently in 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 competed against our friends.”
After students leave Sardis, they can continue honing the archery skills and competing at Chestatee Middle School and Chestatee High School.
Brayden Spaduzzi, who is 14 years old, said he began at Sardis under Barroqueiro, when the program first started, and has even placed third in local tournaments. Now, he and his brother play for Chestatee High’s archery team.
“I like how it’s not just a one-person thing,” Brayden said. “You do it with friends, and it’s not solo.”
Over the years, Barroqueiro said several of his students have placed in the top 10 for archery state championships. More recently, he said Lilian McAlister, who is going into the seventh grade, placed first in state tournaments for outdoor and 3D outdoor.
Olivia Speaks, who is 12 years old, is on her way to a national competition after recently winning third in a state tournament for the youth female bowhunter category. She began archery in the fifth grade, quickly taking a liking to the sport.
“It feels good to shoot well,” Olivia said. “When you first get it, it's kind of difficult to figure out everything. But, once you get in the hang of it, you can get really good at it pretty fast.”
Carrie Spaduzzi, Brayden’s mom, said the sport has taught both of her sons important life skills like perseverance, self-discipline and patience.
“I am grateful for this sport because it focuses on the person as a whole and to become a well-rounded individual, which will carry them for many years to come,” Spaduzzi said.
Barroqueiro said the club at Sardis has grown in popularity over the past few years. Around 40 students join the team each season, and the club even has a waiting list. Barroqueiro said he hopes to be able to coach everyone who wants to join the team. However, he said his main focus is to work individually with each student.
Barroqueiro said one of his student’s fathers reached out to him about how archery has changed his daughter’s experience in school. He said the father mentioned that his daughter had gone from being picked on, to being someone her peers look up to.
“For me, it's just the joy of sharing archery with kids,” Barroqueiro said. “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.