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Archery: Gillingham Has Memorable Weekend

Winning a car alone would have made the weekend memorable.

But claiming a first-place title - after a shoot-off - in addition to a second-place finish in another tournament caused even a seasoned veteran like Tim Gillingham to toss around superlatives.

Gillingham won the Pro Male Freestyle division at the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) Unmarked 3D Championship and second place in the Championship Freestyle Male division at the First Dakota Archery Classic, both of which concluded Sunday at the NFAA headquarters in Yankton.

Adding to his stop in Yankton, Gillingham also won a car shoot-off on Saturday.

“This was easily one of the best weekends I've ever had, no question,” said Gillingham, who took the $10,000 cash prize instead of the car, giving him nearly $13,000 in winnings on the weekend.

“I can't remember the last time I shot this well,” he added. “That's all a guy could hope for.”

In all, nearly 400 archers competed in 40 divisions in the two tournaments at the Easton Sports Development Foundation Center for Archery Excellence, which opened a year ago.

Yet, after two long days of competition, a shoot-off was needed Sunday to determine the overall pro champion.

Held in the open area behind the NFAA headquarters, the shoot-off pitted Gillingham against Dan McCarthy for one shot closest to the center of a three-dimensional hog target.

After both archers each hit their mark after two shots, Gillingham won on the third shot at 49 yards away, giving him the crown.

“That's the biggest battle I've ever had at a 3D tournament,” said Gillingham, the 2005 NFAA Pro Men Shooter of the Year. “You're facing the guy you've been neck and neck with all day, and you have to hit one more target under pressure.”

Nicknamed “The Hammer,” Gillingham is well known in professional archery circuits as a 28-year veteran who has a Triple Crown Championship and an International Bowhunting Organization (IBO) Shooter of the Year title to his credit.

The Provo, Utah, resident said the biggest battle in 3D shooting is judging distance, a task he said has been made “less difficult” with the advances in technology. Still, as he admits, archery is still a “mental” sport.

“Especially when you're shooting two tournaments in two days, it can really wear you down,” Gillingham said. “The wind we had (Saturday) is something you really have to block out of your mind.”

Saturday's windy conditions in Yankton, which saw gusts up to 40 miles per hour, was also something Kathy Caudle said she had to overcome.

Caudle, the champion in the Pro Female Freestyle division, admitted the hot and windy conditions on Saturday were a “lot to bear” after she competing in both the Unmarked 3D Championship and First Dakota Archery Classic.

“For the wind we had, I was really happy with how I shot,” the Gadsden, Alabama, resident said. “It was a lot better (Sunday), so that's when I really tried to catch up.”

The veteran shooter, in the professional ranks since the division was formed in 1992, said she and her husband Jackie - second place in the Senior Pro Freestyle division at the 3D Championship - have been traveling the country for new locations.

“This is our first time in Yankton, and we really liked the facilities they have here,” she said. “They (NFAA) really have something special up here in South Dakota, and they always say they still want to improve.”

In the First Dakota Archery Classic, more than 250 archers competed in 20 different divisions. After competing in two lines Saturday, all of the participants shot in one line Sunday.

Both winners in the top divisions repeated their crowns from 2009. Idaho resident Reo Wilde defended his crown in the Championship Freestyle Male division, while Ohio's Jamie Van Natta won the Championship Freestyle Female division.

Easton CEO Makes A Visit

As archers walked in and out of the Easton Sports Development Center for both tournaments over the weekend, they might have recognized the name of one man among the crowd on Sunday.

Greg Easton, president and CEO of Easton Technical Products, Inc., flew in to Yankton on Sunday to take in the final day of competition and awards ceremony.

“I was here for the grand opening last year, but it's great to see this place in use,” Easton said before Sunday night's awards ceremony. “The vision (NFAA President) Bruce Cull had for this place is already coming together, you can really see that.

“We're just happy to be a part of all this.”

The NFAA recently completed improvements on its new complex thanks to grants worth $200,000 from the Easton Foundation. The 520-by-520-foot Olympic-sized outdoor archery field, located just east of the headquarters, now sports a new chain link fence, new grass, an irrigation system and a covered shooting line.

“With the heat they're shooting in (Sunday), I imagine the archers love practicing in the shade,” joked Easton.

Easton said one of the bigger visions his company, along with the NFAA, has is exposing more and more children to the sport of archery. Through endeavors such as National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), Easton said that goal is closer than ever.

“It's so much fun to see all these kids competing from all over the country,” he said. “It's one of the main reasons we help build these regional centers, to give kids another opportunity to not only learn the sport, but pursue it.”

One Pro A Shutterbug

While some professional archers competed in both the Unmarked 3D Championship and First Dakota Archery Classic, George Ryals joked that doing both is “too much work.”

The pro from Atlanta said he came to Yankton with full intent to participate in both, but instead only competed in the Classic.

The other times, he was hauling around a camera to take photos for his other work - on the bi-monthly NFAA magazine.

“If you look at this way, I'm the ‘newsy' for the NFAA,” joked Ryals, who primarily competes in indoor tournaments. “Two full days of shooting is almost too much for me anymore, and I'm not even that old.”

In addition to his shooting and photography work, Ryals also travels around the world, leading archery seminars. The veteran shooter estimates that he has flown between 110,000-120,000 miles already this year, teaching fellow archers on their form, shot execution, mental aspects, among other topics.

Though he did not finish well in the Championship Freestyle Male division, Ryals said he still enjoyed his trip to Yankton.

“This is a really fun weekend, even with the wind we had (Saturday),” he said. “You think it'd create a struggle for the archers, but personally, I had more fun in the wind then I did on a calm day.”