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Dynasty in the making

John McCoy
With dozens of members sometimes on Ripley High School archery team due to the squad's no-cut policy, the firing line during practice sessions can get a bit crowded. The Archery in the Schools program has been good to Ripley. The school's teams have won six state titles and recently finished fifth in the national tournament.

RIPLEY - In West Virginia, the word "dynasty" has an alternate spelling: R-I-P-L-E-Y.

Ripley High School's archery team is about as dynastic as one gets. The Vikings have won six of the seven Archery in the Schools tournaments held so far, and finished the 2013 season with another state title and a fifth-place finish in the National Archery in the Schools tournament, the best ever by a team from the Mountain State.

"We have a great bunch of kids," said Tom Kruk, one of the team's coaches, when asked the secret to Ripley's success. "They're not content with just being good. Kids from some teams are happy when all their shots are all in the target's yellow [9-point] ring. Our kids want them all in the 10-ring."

Kruk happily acknowledges that many of the team's archers began shooting long before they ever reach high school - or middle school, for that matter.

"We live in an area where a lot of people are bowhunters," he said. "Some of our kids have been shooting since they were in grade school or before."

Cayla Goodson, the team's top female archer, is a case in point. A four-time state individual champion, she won her first title when she was an eighth-grader at Ripley Middle School. Since moving on to the high-school team, she's won three more championships and hopes to add another next year during her senior season.

"Bowhunting has been in my family for quite a while," she said. "I got started [in archery] pretty early."

Levi Staats, the Vikings' second-ranked male, is a sophomore. He won state titles in his sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade years at Ripley Middle. "I had a bow even before I was in the sixth grade, though," he said.

Nick Rhodes, the Vikings' top-ranked male and 2013 individual state champ as a freshman, also got started early. "I've been shooting just about all my life," he said.

Most Archery in the Schools teams are considered clubs, not official school teams. At Ripley, the archery squad enjoys full varsity-team status.

"We're treated as a sport," said Tess Gump, the team's other coach. "We get a share of the athletic budget, and our kids get varsity letters and letter jackets. And these are kids that ordinarily wouldn't be involved in any other sort of athletic competition."

"At this year's spring sports assembly, the archery team got introduced along with the baseball, softball and golf teams," Kruk added. "And our kids got the loudest ovation of any of them."

The team also receives support from its members' parents.

"The parents are amazing. During our dual matches, they volunteer to help in every way possible. When we sent our team to the World Championships last fall, the parents raised $12,000 to finance the trip," Gump said.

The team placed fifth at the Worlds, but places far more stock in the recent fifth-place national finish because the national-championship field is much larger.

"There were more than 9,000 archers at the nationals, and almost 3,000 in the high-school division," Gump said. "Levi Staats finished ninth among the boys, Cayla Goodson finished eighth in the girls, and the team finished fifth overall."

To maintain such a high standard of performance, one might figure that Ripley's coaches hand pick the team's members from the very best shooters in the school's physical education classes.

"We don't pick and choose," Gump said. "We never 'cut' people from the team. Anyone who wants to participate can join. We started this year with 44 kids, and over the course of the year some of them slowly eliminated themselves. We ended the year with 24 on the team."

Ripley participates in the Appalachian Archery Conference, a league composed of 17 Ohio teams plus the Vikings.

"We believe it's the first Archery in the Schools conference ever, and it contains some of the very best teams in the country," Kruk said. "We finished third in the conference this year and felt pretty good about doing that.

"Shooting against better teams makes you better. It motivates you to elevate your performance. Our kids seem to respond very well to that."

And the Ripley dynasty rolls on.

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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