Alexander freshman Gilbert Garcia wins state championship in archery

Gilbert Garcia Jr. knew he screwed up.

The Alexander High School freshman had pulled off the perfect shot. He knew when he left his hand he had hit the bullseye. His arrow struck the X dead center.

The issue was he had shot the wrong target.

Do it in his own hands

The 15 year old was in the finals of the 2022 Texas Field Archery Association Indoor state championship at Cinnamon Creek Ranch in Roanoke two weeks ago and he had his fate in his own hands.

He had already locked up the state season title in the Young Adult Division (ages 15-17) in Bowhunter Freestyle by posting the highest cumulative score on the year between his three best events leading up to the state tournament in Roanoke and his perfect score of 300 he posted Day 1.


But he hadn’t locked up the official state tournament championship yet despite his perfect score of 300 with 45 Xs hit on Day 1. He still had to beat his fellow competitor – a 17-year-old boy named Shaun Stone – to be crowned state tournament champion.

Then he shot the wrong target. The pressure got to him just a bit, which his dad – also named Gilbert – completely understood.

“When you go up stage and you have all these people looking at you and you feel that, ‘OK, I’m the center of attention now,’ that’s exactly how you feel when you’re shooting,” his father said. “Especially when you’re in the top three or top four and you’re competing for that division.”

Garcia had given Stone new life.

By shooting the wrong target, he received an automatic zero for his round of five during the 12-round event. All archers take 12 rounds of five shots with a possible five points on every shot with the perfect score being 300. An absolutely perfect score is 360X, meaning the archer hit the X in the center of the target on every single shot throughout the day.

The 17 year old took advantage of the mistake. He came into the day down five points to Garcia, but his day took a turn the shot before the missed target. Prior to Garcia’s mistake, he had missed the center of the target and scored four points. Stone took advantage by tallying a five-pointer, and the freshman Alexander was a little bit frustrated.

That’s when he shot the wrong target.

It’s an understandable mistake. At events such as these, there are two targets in front of each competitor: one on top and one on bottom. Each competitor shoots one of those targets – either top or bottom – in each round. But because Garcia was frustrated with himself, he lost concentration and shot the wrong target. It was a perfect shot that struck an X dead center, but that doesn’t matter. It was an automatic zero.

‘Target Panic’

Garcia has dealt with some anxiety in shooting in the past. After winning a state championship as a fifth grader, he dealt with “target panic,” or what might more commonly be recognized as “the yips.” Athletes across all sports deal with this issue and it is exceedingly common in archery.

“Every archer that competes has some sort of target panic,” Garcia Sr. said. “If somebody tells you they don’t have to panic, it’s a lie.”

The issue was so prevalent for Garcia he actually took several years away from the sport. He couldn’t hit an X for an extended period of time, which got his family to seek out help for his mental game for a couple of years. Then COVID-19 hit and his time away from the sport extended out even longer.

It wasn’t something easy for him to get over, but despite the struggle, he found his way back. Then in his first tournament of the season, Garcia Sr. knew his son had a chance at a state title once again.

“His score the first day – or the first shoot that he goes to (for the year), it was in McAllen – he went with no pressure and all of a sudden he shot a 298,” he said. “I knew right there that it was something special right there. From not shooting at all for two and a half, three years almost… I knew it was going to be special. ”

Coming into the state tournament, Garcia had one of the best cumulative scores in the state with a high score of 298 and a low of 293. Then he went out and shot a perfect 300 with 45 Xs on Day 1 to lock up the state title for the season.

Backyard competitor

Considering the fact he doesn’t even have a place to shoot outside of his backyard in Laredo, that is a huge accomplishment. Many of the other competitors – including Stone – have their own shops where they are professionally coached. Garcia Sr. freely says that isn’t what he is.

“I am not a Level I, II, III coach,” he said. “There are different levels of coaches, even up to Level IV, USA coach. I just trained him the way I learned. ”

So when Garcia shot his 300 on Day 1 and took his score up to the man tracking them at the event, the official got a big surprise.

“When he went to turn in his 300 to the president of the association… he tells him,‘ Son, you didn’t write the name of your shop, ’and (Garcia) looks at me and I look at the man and… I’m like, ‘He doesn’t have a shop,’ ”Garcia’s mother Crisela said. “And he looked at me and he’s like, ‘He shoots in the backyard?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, he shoots in the backyard.’ And (he asked), ‘And he got a 300?’ So that’s in and of itself… that’s why we’re so proud of him. ”

Rake the leaves

Garcia has been shooting since he was 3 years old. His parents knew he had a talent for the sport by the time he was 5.

Even when he was going through his struggles with target panic, they knew he would work hard to get back to where he was. So when he finally started getting back into being competitive, he actually had outgrown his old bow.

Work found him again after that as Gilbert Sr. and Crisela had him save up the money to buy a new one. The family has a big tree in their backyard with lots of leaves covering their grass. They paid him $ 5 a bag to rake up those leaves.

Hours of raking and bagging later, he had his new bow and he was back on the competitive track.

Then he was back at state again, but even after shooting a 300 and winning the season state championship, he felt his nerves creep up on him. After missing the target, things got worse.

5 X 5

Garcia was up by four points over Stone, then he fell behind by one by missing the target. All Stone had to do was hit 5’s the rest of the way and he would be crowned the state tournament champion.

But nerves are a fickle thing – as is confidence. Garcia’s mistakes came in the third and fourth round of the final day. He had 16 rounds and 40 shots left. Through 14 rounds, Stone was sailing. He had it in the bag.

Then Garcia thought Stone got a little overconfident and he missed late. That opened the door, if only by a little.

Stone went on to hit every other target to finish out his day. Garcia didn’t know he was going to do that, but what he did know was when Stone missed that one shot, it gave him an opening. He could tie Stone in the aggregate and win the tournament on X’s hit (he had more than 30 X’s more than Stone which would guarantee him the tiebreaker) if he could hit five 5’s in the final round.

That is exactly what he did. And for good measure, he hit five more X’s to bring his total to 85 X’s over the course of two days. He was a state champion once again, and he knows just how special this one was.

“It was more special,” Garcia said. “I had to earn more. Especially with high school – it got more busy with homework – this one I had to earn it more. ”

Garcia has now won three state titles in his life – two indoor and one outdoor – and he has his eye on another outdoor title in the coming months.

His parents couldn’t be happier.

“I guess the pressure was good for him,” Crisela said.

“I was extremely proud,” said Garcia Sr. added. “I was ecstatic.”

thomas.lott@lmtonline.com

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