STRAIGHT SHOOTER

Aidan Haire’s Keen Eye Has Helped Propel Him To Unexpected Heights In Archery In Louisiana Schools Program

story by Trey Iles, LDWF Public Information

photos by Joel Courtney, LDWF Public Information

Cheryl Driskell drove to Benton Elementary to pick up her son, Aidan Haire, after his first archery practice session of the year and was taken aback when she noticed Aidan along with the coach waiting for her.

“How long has he been shooting?’’ the coach asked through the car window.

“I told him Aidan has never picked up a bow before in his life,’’ Cheryl said. A look of amazement came over the coach’s face, Cheryl said.

“That’s hard to believe because he was awesome,’’ the coach said.

Haire, in the fifth grade at the time, simply picked up the bow during his first Archery in Louisiana Schools (ALAS) program practice session and proceeded to pump arrow after arrow into the bullseye.

“I shot really well, a 45 (of a possible 50) and everyone else was missing the target,’’ Haire said, recalling his first day. “I was just stacking them in the center.’’ He’s been stacking them in the center ever since.

Haire, now 14 and a freshman at Benton High School, is arguably the top archer to come from the ALAS program, administered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He won a state championship as a fifth grader just months after picking up the sport. He also captured the top place as a seventh and eighth grader.

In 2016, he became the first archer in ALAS history to record a perfect score of 300. That came during a regional meet in Shreveport.

During last year’s National Archery in School’s Program (NASP) tournament in Louisville, Ken., he placed 47th overall out of 6,870 competitors, 10th out of 2,625 middle schoolers and ninth out of 941 eighth graders with a score of 292.

In the world tournament, held at Myrtle Beach, S.C., last summer, he finished as runner-up in the eighth grade division of the 3-D challenge, where archers shoot at alternating targets instead of the traditional bullseye mark. He was also 19th overall and third in the middle school division.

He helped lead Benton Middle to team titles at the regional, state, national and world tournaments.

He and his family have embraced the sport, despite knowing nothing about the program four years ago.

“I remember he came home one day and said he needed $20 to be a part of the archery team at school,’’ said Joe Driskell, Aidan’s stepfather. “I thought, ‘For what?’ I just wrote the check and said, ‘Sure, whatever.’ Next thing you know we’re all involved in it and enjoy it.’’

Joe Driskell said he, too, was impressed that Haire so quickly became proficient in archery. But he always knew that Haire was a good shot with a gun.

“I’ve had him since he was 4 and I remember he had a BB gun when he was 5 years old,’’ Joe Driskell said. “I set up a milk jug and with three shots, he hit the target. Aidan has always been a good shot. It doesn’t matter, gun or otherwise.’’

Joe thinks part of it is because Haire is left handed but shoots right handed. He thinks his left eye is dominant and that helps.

But natural ability only gets you so far. Haire has fallen head over heels in love with the sport. His passion has helped him develop a strong work ethic. He practices at least four days a week at Hoot & Holler Archery in Bossier City. He has two targets set up in his backyard, one for ALAS practice, which alternates between 10 and 15 meters, and another which can go back 70 meters, the distance of Olympic archery.

Once oblivious to archery, he now has his eye on the 2020 Olympic Games, which will be staged in Tokyo. He’s joined the Junior Olympic Archery Development program at Hoot & Holler, operated by his coach, Chip Hemphill. He’ll be competing in national and international events as part of the program. Hemphill said Haire understands the work it takes to master the sport.       

“He’s not afraid to practice and he’s not afraid to make the changes to get better,’’ Hemphill said. “He listens and takes instruction very well. Working on form and the mental aspect of archery are key. He does that well, too. The only way to succeed is you have to take criticism. He’s willing to listen and will to try something new.’’

Perhaps Haire’s top archery asset is his demeanor. He’s low key and doesn’t appear to be rattled easily. He has developed a routine in which he’s more concerned about form rather than result.

“I’m thinking about doing everything with the proper form,’’ Haire said. “Loading the arrow, coming up and drawing back, aiming, counting to three and shooting. That’s all I think about. I’m not thinking if my arrow is going to hit good, I’m not hoping it will hit good. I’m just relying on my skill and form for it to go in the middle.’’

The formula has worked well, especially during last year’s regional tournament in January when he bullseyed perfection. In NASP events, archers shoot 30 arrows, 15 at a distance of 15 meters and 15 from 10 meters. A bullseye is worth 10 points.

Haire said he didn’t realize he was chasing the perfect game until his final five arrows. It was then that a crowd had gathered. But he was unfazed, placing all five arrows into the bullseye from 15 meters.

“He kept his composure,’’ said Benton Middle Coach Terrie Streetman.

“I wasn’t paying attention,’’ Haire said. “The last five arrows, it was probably the most scary moment. When I shot the last one, I couldn’t tell if the arrow was in or not. I was walking around, squatting down to see if the arrow was in there. Once we figured out that it was, the feeling was amazing.’’

Haire said he had a familiar feeling in the fifth grade when he captured his first state title. He shot fairly early in the competition. Cheryl, not knowing much about the sport at the time, didn’t realize her son was in the running for the title. She wanted to head home, having no idea he’d be in the winner’s circle.

“I finally convinced my mom to stay and I won overall state champion for boys in the elementary division,’’ Haire said.

“That was special and I’m glad we didn’t miss it,’’ Cheryl said.

The journey with Benton Middle has been special, too, Streetman said. Several of the eighth graders who led the school to so many team titles have moved on to the high school level, including Haire.

“I was cleaning out a reminder app that I used to send out for practices and competitions for that group and I was almost in tears,’’ Streetman said.

She said Haire was a special part of that group. He became a team leader, someone the other competitors looked up to and asked for advice. He’s also an outstanding student and was named to the 2016 NASP Middle School Division All-Academic team.

“He’s just a neat person,’’ Streetman said. “He keeps it interesting. Our practices were fun because of his personality. He’s all boy. We’ve had so much fun together.’’

As much as he loves the sport, Haire said he enjoyed the other opportunities ALAS provided. He got to interact with teammates and other competitors from not only Louisiana but the nation and world. He also found a great go-cart track in Louisville.

“I love traveling,’’ Haire said. “With the team, we’ll go go-carting whenever we can because we all enjoy that. We usually go to a place called Bluegrass in Louisville. It’s a big indoor facility and I think I look forward to that as much as the (tournament).’’

 Haire’s love of the sport is something he can carry the rest of his life, he said. Like golf or bowling, you can take part in it well into adulthood.

Among his other pursuits, he enjoys deer hunting. Ironically, he has yet to fell a deer with a bow though he has harvested several by gun. He has a stand set up in the woods about a 15-minute walk from his house.

“I’ve just started bow hunting seriously the last couple of years,’’ Haire said.

 He’d like to be out in the woods more but, right now, practice takes precedence.

 “We usually don’t get home until after dark and by then it’s too late to go out hunting,’’ Cheryl said.

The Olympics is a goal for Haire and he said he’d like to compete in the sport at the collegiate level. In fact, archery will help the family with college expenses. Thanks to various partnerships, ALAS awards scholarship money to winners at the state level. Haire earned $6,250 in scholarship money during the 2015 state tournament and has banked more than $8,000 since competing in ALAS. That number is likely to grow.

“At the nationals, the top overall (archer) wins $22,000 in scholarships,’’ Haire said. “I’d really like to get that.’’

Not a bad return on a $20 investment made in the fifth grade.

 

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