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Bethel Middle sportsman clubs nabs second place in state

Jun. 5—The Bethel Middle sportsman club has done it again — placing second at the state level one year after winning it all.

"We just fell a little short at the state competition, but we still shot as good or better than anyone else," said Coach Chad Franklin. "We got beat by a more seasoned team."

The team competed in the Youth Hunter Educational Skills Tournament state competition in Ellerbe, North Carolina, on April 27.

The tournament includes competition in multiple disciplines, including shotgun, archery, rifle and a safety trail test. The competition draws over 4,000 kids across the high school and middle school levels.

The Blue Demons came second overall this year but claimed first place as a team in the shotgun and archery categories. The Bethel team also grabbed second as a team in the rifle category.

"I enjoy it," Franklin said. "It can be a challenge. For the most part, our kids have always done so well. This group has been a special group."

The shotgun part of the event had a particularly exciting finish. Four individuals finished with a perfect score setting up a shoot-off for the individual crown.

Two of the four were from Bethel Middle with Nash Griffith and Tyler Sellers.

"There were four of those (perfect scores) in the middle school competition. We had two," Franklin said.

The shoot-off came with all of the added pressure. Everyone found their way over to watch the competition.

"It's pretty neat. At that point, there were about 3,000 people standing around watching the kids," Franklin said. "It's fun because at the end of the day, everyone still hanging around is sitting around watching. It puts a lot of pressure on the kids. It's fun to watch."

While Griffith did not grab the shotgun crown, he did shoot his personal best in the archery portion of the tournament — earning the individual title in archery.

"I knew we were going to have someone finish at the top, but I didn't know which one was going to do it," Franklin said.

Eli Holland also grabbed a third-overall individual finish in the archery section of the tournament.

"It's not surprising with this bunch that I've had," Franklin said. "It's been fun to watch them battle amongst each other. It's an internal competition, but they didn't take it personal. They made each other better."

This year saw a new format for the safety test portion.

"They changed that format this year to more of a live walkthrough test," Franklin said.

Gray Stone grabbed the top spot in the skills test, outpacing Bethel by 200 points in that section of the tournament. Ultimately, Gray Stone won the tournament overall — beating Bethel by 178 points for the top spot.

While the Blue Demons didn't grab the first overall spot, it was another consistent year for Bethel Middle.

"It's huge. I looked at it and in the last six trips to state, the worst we've finished it fourth," Franklin said.

The finish was the fourth time in that six-year stretch that the Blue Demons have finished runners-up.

It wasn't just Bethel either. Waynesville Middle finished eighth overall in the tournament. Canton Middle also qualified for the state tournament.

"It's nice," Franklin said. "That's the whole purpose of the program — to get the kids interested in the outdoors."

To make state, teams have to finish in the top two in their district tournament for a guaranteed spot. The rest of the team entered a draw based on their scoring at the district tournaments.

Six of the 24 teams in the state field came from the western-most district nine.

"We've risen to the top as far as some of the best teams in the state," Franklin said of the westernmost district.