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Ripley High archer sets sights on trip to South Africa

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sometimes a story just keeps going. Last week, the lead article on this page featured Ripley High School's archery team, which won the 2013 state tournament and finished fifth in the national tourney.

The story centered on the team as a whole, but also mentioned Cayla Goodson's eighth-place finish in the girls' individual competition and Levi Staats' ninth-place finish in the boys' division.

Later I discovered there's more to Staats' part of the tale.

He finished in the top 16 overall, which means he made the National Archery in the Schools Program's All-America squad. In late July, those All-Americans will travel to South Africa to compete against all-nation squads from other countries.

Gail Staats, Levi's mother, said she found out about the Africa trip just two weeks ago.

"Basically we have just a few weeks to raise the money for Levi to go," she said. "His expenses will be covered once he's there, but we're responsible for his air fare to get there."

Airline tickets to Johannesburg aren't cheap.

"Estimates range from $2,200 to $2,800," Gail said. "NASP will reimburse us for $1,000 of Levi's ticket, but only after we've purchased it."

Neither Gail nor husband Stacey wants to send their 16-year-old son halfway around the world unescorted. They're going, too. No one in the family has flown before, let alone traveled to a distant continent, and they're discovering all the hidden expenses associated with international travel.

"We've had to get passports, which cost $135 each," Gail said.

To help defray expenses, Team Staats has launched a fundraising drive.

"To start with, we're raffling off a hog," Gail said. "I sold $100 worth of tickets [Tuesday]. The members of our church are planning a fundraising spaghetti dinner. The folks at The Great Outdoors [store] are working on a benefit 3-D [archery] shoot."

People in the Ripley area take a lot of pride in the school's archery success. Bowhunting is huge there, and folks know and appreciate the skill involved. Levi Staats grew up in Jackson County's bowhunting culture, and it helped make him the archer he has become.

"God has given him a gift [for archery]," Gail said. "He won state championships his sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade years, and he was the state runner-up each of his first two high-school seasons. We have I-don't-know-how-many trophies of his in the house. In addition to Archery in the Schools, he competes in [International Bowhunting Organization] and [Archery Shooters Association] 3-D tournaments."

In July, Levi will add "international competitor" to his list of bow-and-arrow exploits. Gail said there's a lot to do before July 21, when Team Staats' plane goes wheels-up and heads out across the Atlantic. "The problem is time. It's not like they gave us a year to get ready for this," she added.

The family's fundraising efforts will continue through the early weeks of summer.

"I've been contacted by a group called The CEOs," Gail said. "It's an organization that does things for the community. There wasn't enough time for them to plan a fundraiser, but they're considering a cash donation."

To handle potential cash donations, Gail has set up a Levi Staats fund at Premier Bank.

"Anyone who wants to make a donation for Levi can go to any Premier outlet in West Virginia, Virginia or Georgia, and the folks there will know what you're talking about," she said.

"Levi is representing his school, his town ... and the U.S. It will take a team to help him do that."


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