Archers pay tribute to teen who died of cancer
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The pitter-patter of arrows striking targets echoing through the exposition center is the sound of a family tradition for some.
"It's been a family thing, it runs in my family," Taylor Ison, an archer from Floyd County, said. "I was just taught to do it ever since I was little."
Those families all came together for the Kentucky National Archery in the Schools Program State Championship. The competition is the largest state NASP tournament in the country.
"They're coming to me, we're talking and loving, doing the hugs," Lisa Frye, the state archery coordinator, said.
It's like a reunion. Competitors shoot their rounds, then catch up with people they miss and haven't seen since last year.
"They're like I wasn't doing very well in school, I'm doing really good at school now," Frye said, describing an interaction with a young archer she hadn't seen in a while.
A bullseye isn't the only goal for kids competing. Smiles and laughter show its about meeting new people and connecting.
"I like it because you've got all these people and you make new friends," Ison said.
The event drew 6,633 archers from 392 schools across Kentucky.
"Whether you're short, your tall, you're athletic, you're not, you have a place here," Matt Browning, the co-owner of Archery Squad, a t-shirt printing company, said.
A place in a big family. One that, like any other, looks out for each other when life gets tough.
"Unfortunately, he was too sick to attend school and to shoot this year, but the community has really been rallying behind him and his family through the whole struggle," Browning said.
Jared Chitwood and his twin brother shot arrows side-by-side starting when they were in the fourth grade. Jared was recently diagnosed with Leukemia.
"It's truly a family," Frye said. "What affects one school, one team or one child, we all gather around."
That's what they did, but, before the big tournament in Louisville, things changed.
"He recently passed away, several weeks ago," Browning said.
So, since then, archers, coaches and, Browning, a t-shirt vendor, have scrambled to help Jared's family by making "Archery Strong" t-shirts, and giving the proceeds to Jared's family.
If anything, to show that Jared was a special member of their extended family, just like all those who are shooting.
"It's so important to make a child feel like they belong in school," Frye said. "They need to have that feeling that they mean something."
While Jared wasn't at the tournament, it's clear he still means a lot to those who were.
"Archery Strong" t-shirts are on sale at the Archery Squad Facebook page through April 6.
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