JACKSONVILLE (AGFC) – For a brief moment, Cave City’s only coach in the school’s 11-year shooting sports history, Marilyn Cherry, was feeling a sense of déjà vu. For the last decade, her best shooting team had placed well in regional competition but always suffered a heartbreaking loss in the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program’s state tournament. Yet again, in the semifinal round of the 64-team state tournament on Saturday, June 3, at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex, nerves were taking over at the wrong time for the Cave City Sharpshooters, she said.
Cherry’s quick-shooting team was done with its semifinal round and had missed nine of 125 targets, its worst performance of the day. She worried, waiting as Cabot’s shooters finished far down the shooting line, getting hand signals from a team parent to let her know how the opponent was doing.
“During that 116 round, my heart had sunk and I thought we had blown it. But [Cabot’s] nerves had got them too,” Cherry said, as the Sharpshooters survived 116-112 in the semifinal, then won their coveted state championship a half-hour later with a 120-117 win over Quitman. Cherry said the state title for Cave City was only the second for the school in its history; the other came in tennis.
In the junior division held on Friday, June 2, Berryville Shooting Sports won the championship over the Bald Knob Claybusters. The Corning Trap Team won the third-place match.
In the senior bracket, the Jonesboro Westside Trap Team, the East Regional champion, defeated Cabot for third place.
Chase Martin of the Bald Knob Bulldogs won the ASSYP Senior Champion of Champions shootout Saturday for the second year in a row, beating six other competitors. The Junior Champion of Champions drew 10 shooters who had posted perfect scores during regional competition leading up to state, and Parker Hutchins of South Side FFA came away with the crown.
The Champion of Champions event brings the perfect shooters from regionals together for a one-and-done shootout starting at the 1, 3 and 5 posts in the five-stand trap shooting setup, with the shooters calling for and trying to hit targets released in unknown directions from 16 yards. As long as competitors continue to hit a target, they rotate through and then move back to 19 yards, then 21, then 24. The first miss eliminates a shooter. Martin outlasted the last senior competitor at the 24-foot mark.
Chuck Woodson, ASSYP coordinator for the AGFC, said, “This is our 11th year, and even though we’re an introductory program into shooting, with each growing year of the tournament the competition gets tougher and the talent seems to be higher. The shooting was very impressive this weekend.”
The youths were entertained both days by a trick-shot shooting exhibition by members of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shotgun team, Mark Weeks and Olympian Josh Richmond. “It was phenomenal,” Woodson said.
Cave City’s Cherry was among the early volunteers when Woodson got AYSSP going 11 years ago. Cherry became involved because her two sons, Kyle and Kendall, wanted to shoot. Kyle, now 27, is Cherry’s assistant coach, she said. Her program, she said, draws 30 to 50 junior and senior boys and girls, and she had four teams compete in senior regionals. One team, the Cave City Claybusters, competed “neck and neck” with the Sharpshooters all year and made state, but was eliminated by one missed target in the first round.
The Sharpshooters, however, never buckled. Tanner Johnson and Justin Roper, who are hunting buddies as well, provided the senior leadership, she said, but it was freshman River Donahoe who got hot Saturday, hitting 50 shots in a row. Junior Dylan Kirk and freshman Jase Hambrick made up the rest of the five-man Sharpshooters team.
“If you had told me yesterday that we’d be standing here, I’d say no way,” Johnson said after the trophy presentation. Johnson and Kirk both hit 146 out of 150 targets on Saturday.
As a team, the Sharpshooters missed four shots in a second-round win over Berryville and just three in beating Magnolia in the third round. Their other wins came over The Minutemen in the opening round and a 119-116 squeaker over Huntsville in the quarterfinals to reach the final four.
Cave City, which started its program shooting clay pigeons in a hayfield, now practices nine miles away at the shooting complex in Batesville. “The program has been great for the kids,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of kids that have made it to state but never won it. We usually lost by only one bird every time. It was heartbreaking. We shot the highest score in a regional tournament one year, my youngest son’s team, and you would think we would win the state but we got beat out in the first round.”
Cave City isn’t likely going away after winning this one, either. The shooting club’s top junior team lost in a tie-breaking card-off in the round of 16. Wyatt Wade hit 50 clays in a row in one stretch, however.