Ayden Hooke had never shot a bow until two years ago.
The Tunkhannock Area student was in the fifth grade at the time, and that’s when he heard about an archery club started by physical education teacher Jeff Underwood.
Hooke figured he’d give archery a try.
“I always wondered what it is like to shoot a bow. I heard about the program and wanted to test it out,” he said. “Before I shot the bow for the first time, I knew nothing about them. But I did it and kept getting better and better.”
Hooke, 12, improved so quickly that he recently earned an invite to a national tournament this Saturday in Louisville, Ky., sponsored by the National Archery in the Schools program.
Not bad for someone who only picked up a bow for the first time two years ago.
Shortly after joining the archery club, Hooke, who resides in Monroe Township, Wyoming County, hit the tournament trail. Last year, he finished in third place in his division at his school’s tournament and competed on a bigger stage at the state tournament held in State College. Although he didn’t place, the experience left Hooke yearning for more.
“It was the best feeling in my life,” he said.
This year Hooke made a return trip to the State College tournament and fared quite a bit better. His score of 257 out of 300 earned him a trip to the national competition in Louisville.
At State College, Hooke’s score ranked first out of the 85 sixth grade boys he competed against, fourth out of 144 boys in the elementary division (includes all grades up to sixth), and 66th out of a total of 444 boys that includes all grades from elementary to high school.
Hooke recalls the moment he learned that his score was the highest in his division.
“It was scaring me listening to them read the scores because they were all very close,” he said. “Second place was 256, and then they called my name at 257.
“I stepped up to the podium and I couldn’t think about anything. I didn’t even know I was holding my trophy upside down until they told me.”
Hooke honed his archery skills strictly through the Tunkhannock Area program. He practices with the club after school once a week and, since sights aren’t allowed in tournaments, he never uses them.
Just a finger sling, an armguard and his compound bow are all Hooke needs.
During a NASP tournament, competing archers shoot at a target from 10 and 15 meters with 15 arrows to use for each distance. The highest score per arrow is 10.
Eight Tunkhannock Area students from the elementary, middle and high school levels earned scores high enough to compete in nationals next weekend. Hooke admits he isn’t worried about competing at the national level, and he is hoping to score high enough to go on to the NASP World Championship held in St. Louis this June.
While Hooke’s success has come quickly, it hasn’t surprised his mother, Brooke.
“He definitely has a natural knack for it,” she said. “It’s nice that the school has this club for the kids. It’s something different for them and, being in Wyoming County, archery is big in this area.”
While Hooke hopes to continue with competitive archery with his school, he is considering expanding his skill with a bow and try his hand at deer hunting.
“After I get stronger I hope to be able to pull back a heavier bow for hunting,” he said. “But I’m happy to just have the chance to finally be able to shoot a bow.”
That’s a chance Hooke didn’t have two years ago, but one that has led to yet another chance - a win at nationals and an invite to the world championship.
“I remember shooting a bow for the first time and how different it felt,” he said. “But now I’m comfortable with it and really enjoy competing in the tournaments. Winning them is the best feeling I ever had.”