RIGHT ON TARGET

Benton Elementary School’s Rylie Duos
Benton Elementary School’s Rylie Duos is assisted at the ALAS State Tournament by Coach Autry Lowry (left). Duos (top right) finished 97th in the girl’s elementary bullseye competition at the state meet.
Trophies are among the items that ALAS competitors can take home
Two ALAS State Tournament Competitors
Archery equipment ready for use
One of the many flights during the ALAS State tournament.

LDWF’s ALAS Program Helps Drive Amber Long, Rylie Duos, Others To Find Success On And Off The Range

story by TREY ILES, LDWF Public Information
photos by MISSY FOX

Amber Long and Rylie Duos refused to take the path of least resistance. In fact, they embraced adversity then pushed themselves to excellence though in different ways while taking part in the Archery in Louisiana Schools program.

Long, a freshman at Benton High School, and Duos, a fifth grader at Benton Elementary School, both competed in the ALAS State Tournament in April. Long captured the girls high school division in bullseye and 3D competitions. Duos, who has cerebral palsy, was part of Benton Elementary’s state championship team.

Chad Moore said the duo are only two examples of the positive impact made by ALAS, which is administered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and part of the National Archery in Schools Program.

“One of the nice things about ALAS is that you don’t have to be a great athlete to take part and it’s designed so that all students can learn about archery and participate,’’ said Moore, who oversees the ALAS program for LDWF. “But it’s more than just participating. It’s about learning something most know nothing about then becoming proficient at it.’’

The ALAS/NASP program has grown rapidly since May of 2012 when about 35 schools participated. There are about 200 schools and 24,000 students in Louisiana who now take part in the program in all corners of the state from rural to metropolitan areas. It is designed primarily to introduce students in grades 4-12 to international target style archery and generally taught as part of in-school curriculum, usually in physical education classes.

That’s how Long and Duos got involved with the sport. Neither were particularly good at it to start. But they were intrigued by it and didn’t let initial failure deter them.

It’s what defines both.

A DESIRE TO HELP OTHERS

Caroline Rylie Duos wouldn’t take no for an answer. Determined to help special needs children like herself, Duos, only 6 at the time, kept telling her mother, Jessi Duos, she wanted to come up with a plan to raise money.

“I thought it was sweet but I kind of blew it off,’’ said Jessi of Benton. “But she kept talking about it and talking about it.’’

One day, Rylie and a friend were designing t-shirts and Jessi asked what was going on.

“She said, ‘I’m designing t-shirts so we can sell them and raise money for kids with special needs’,’’ Jessi said. “She kept pushing. So I finally talked to some people and decided to go ahead and go all in with the foundation.’’

In 2016, Rylie’s dream came true when CRD (Caroline Rylie Duos) No Limits Foundation was created. She’s now 11. The foundation has raised $70,000 and invested in many projects.

“We’ve remodeled bathrooms to make them wheelchair accessible,’’ Jessi said. “We’ve purchased walkers and wheelchairs. We’ve paid for cancer treatment deductibles. It’s been such a blessing for our family.’’

And it’s a testament to Rylie’s dogged determination. It’s not the only area in which she excels.

Despite her disease, which forces her to use a walker and wheelchair to get around, Rylie has become a part of Benton Elementary’s vaunted archery team. Benton has won several state, national and world championships and Rylie has been a part of them.

Rylie finished 97th in the bullseye competition in the girl’s elementary division ALAS State Tournament in April out of 160 competitors with a score of 210 out of 300. She was 62nd in the 3D competition out of 82 participants in the girl’s elementary category with a 176 score. Like all competitors at the state meet, Rylie had to qualify at a regional tournament.
Rylie has a special stand from which she shoots during the competition. She gets assistance from her coaches. At state, Autry Lowry was alongside handing her the arrows as she competed.

Though she has several extracurricular interests, she’s also a cheerleader, archery is her first love, she said.

“She talks about it all the time,’’ Jessi said. “She practices three days a week and some on the weekends. We bring the stand home on weekends and that’s how she’s able to stay sharp.’’

The ALAS/NASP program introduced Rylie to archery. She tried it in her physical education class and fell in love.

“She tried it and the coaches worked with her,’’ Jessi said. “We built the stand and branched out from there. She did pretty well with it. Her best score is 241 at practice and she had a 219 at the regional meet.’’

“To see the joy Rylie has when she holds up that team championship trophy reminds me of why ALAS is so important,’’ Moore said. “It is designed for all students to learn the sport. It doesn’t matter where you live, what your background is or how good an athlete you are, archery is something you can take part in and it’s something you can do for life. Rylie is a perfect example of that.’’

DRIVE TO BE THE BEST

Long got her introduction to archery in the fourth grade during P.E. class. She tried out for the school team but didn’t make the cut. That, said her father, Ronnie Long, ignited the fire that drove her to success in the sport.

“She’s big-time competitive and I guess she gets that from me,’’ Ronnie Long said. “She came home from school and told us she didn’t make the team. I didn’t know she was shooting. But she decided right then that she was going to be on that team. I bought her a bow and she practiced and practiced and practiced.’’

The work paid off as she just made the team in the fifth grade. But by the end of fifth grade, Amber was among the best on Benton Elementary’s squad. She’s won state three straight years and had the ALAS state top score in 2018 with a 290. This year, she won the high school girls division of bullseye and 3D competitions.

“When I started just being able to hit the target most of the time was kind of a struggle,’’ Amber said. “It was rough especially at 15 meters. It took about a year before it came naturally to me. But now I love shooting. It’s my favorite thing to do.’’

Ronnie and Amber both said the key to improving and getting to the top is the mental process. That’s something they’ve worked on. And work she does. Amber practices at least five days a week, shooting 200 arrows a day.

“Really, once you get into it, your mental game is the most important part,’’ Amber said. “If you come in with a bad attitude, you aren’t going to shoot the best that you can. I usually don’t focus on where my shots go. I focus on enjoying being here and my shot process.’’

Former New Orleans Saints and Pro Football Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen once said, “Once the ball leaves my foot, it leaves my mind.’’ Amber has taken a similar approach.

“When I get on the line to shoot I just focus on doing my best during the round,’’ Amber said. “I focus on drawing back. I like to hold for at least four seconds and I let go. I just say in my head, ‘Draw, anchor,’ and then I count to four and release. I don’t focus on where the arrow goes because that will mess with the next attempt.’’

This once vexing sport has captured Amber. She takes part in Junior Olympic competition, traveling throughout the country. There’s also the ALAS/NASP events. She hopes to one day be a part of the U.S. Olympic team.

“Immediately, I want to win state and get better each year,’’ Amber said. “I’d like to do it in college and I’d love to be in the Olympics. But it’s a matter of working hard every day to get better.’’

GATEWAY TO THE OUTDOORS

Long and Duos stories barely tells of how influential ALAS has been as LDWF seeks to not only teach students about archery but also introduce them to the outdoors.

“We want to get the next generation involved in the outdoors and this provides an avenue for that,’’ Moore said. “Many of these students may not have a working knowledge of hunting or fishing. But when they get involved in archery, they begin to wonder, ‘What else can I do out there?’ Some may have never hunted before. When they do this, perhaps they’ll realize how enjoyable hunting can be. They’ll get into bow hunting then gun hunting. This is the perfect first step.’’

The ALAS/NASP program is designed for any student to take part. NASP was developed in Kentucky in 2001. It uses standardized equipment designed to be safe, durable, economical and of a universal fit for most students. All students shoot the same model of bow and arrows.

“Even in our competition, the equipment is the same,’’ Moore said. “Everyone has to use the same arrows and the same bow so there is no advantage gained. Even if someone doesn’t own a bow, we have them available at the competitions for use.’’

ALAS continues to grow, which goes against national trends that see participation dropping in most recreational sports as youth gravitate to the digital world.

“It’s always great to see how these kids take to it,’’ Moore said. “They get such a sense of accomplishment and it translates in other parts of their life.’’

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

ALAS is hosted in conjunction with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation. For more information, go to www.lawff.org.

For more information on Rylie’s foundation, go to www.crdnolimitsfoundation.com.

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