Benton’s O’Donohue shooting for the stars in young archery career

Savannah O’Donohue, 13, of Benton wore the red, white and blue on June 1-5 as a U.S. Archery Team member at the Youth Pan American Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She claimed a silver medal.

Like many other teenage girls, Savannah O’Donohue enjoys art — sketching or painting — and advanced tap dancing.

What separates her from most is her unbridled passion for shooting a bow and arrow and her quick mastery of the sport. The Benton Middle School eighth grade student is an undisputed national champion and a silver medalist representing Louisiana on the international stage at age 13.

From the beginning, which included a fourth-place in nationals as a fourth grade student, the young teen has said simply, “It’s a lot of fun.”

O’Donohue’s archery career nearly never took off. During Stockwell Place Elementary School’s P.E. class, Suzanne Hill gave third graders a piece of yarn to help teach them 11 steps of archery. Her mother mistakenly believed it was a trinket she picked up at school and tossed it.

The young girl went through the trash, an early sign of how important archery would become. Then she tried out for the school’s archery team and didn’t make it in 2017.

She tried the next year and made it. She hasn’t looked back and strives to improve each year, recently teaming with Charli Long and Madison Hammersla to propel Benton Middle School to an unprecedented third straight NASP Eastern National Bullseye Tournament title in mid-May in Kentucky.

Praise for coaches

O’Donohue is quick to praise coaches who have guided her — Hill, Benton Middle School’s Terrie Streetman, Autry Lowry and Sherrie Malone, and Hoot and Holler Training Academy’s Chip and Kathleen Hemphill in Bossier City.

“The hardest thing for me was the mental aspect. I had (and have) very good coaches …,” she said, noting coaches helped her with that part of the sport.

O’Donohue, the daughter of Scott and April O’Donohue, really grabbed the sport’s attention in May by winning the NASP Eastern National Bullseye Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. She scored 295 of 300 to top all 2,054 middle school girls in the field. She also tied the highest score for all ages of 5,352 females in the tournament, which prompted a shootoff against a high school senior with five arrows at 15 meters. After each scored 48, the title came down to a single arrow shootoff. The Louisiana teen’s arrow thwacked into the target just off the X to make her the first overall champion from Louisiana in the 20-year history of NASP.

Benton Intermediate School archers congratulate Savannah O’Donohue after the Benton Middle School seventh grader won the NASP National Championship. Savannah is the first overall national champion from Louisiana in the 20-year history of NASP.

She also helped BMS win the National Archery in Schools IBO 3D Eastern Nationals the same weekend with a 283 out of 300.

One month later, O’Donohue notched a 292 of 300 at the Scholarship Shootoff NASP Open/Championship in Kentucky. Between those two national events she took advantage of an invitation and trained for the Youth Pan American Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She simultaneously practiced with her Genesis compound bow for school competition and her Hoyt compound bow for the Pan Am Games in Canada, where nine countries participated in June.

O’Donohue finished the qualifying round in fourth place, which determined seeding for elimination rounds. The 13-year-old competed up one division in the 15- to 17-year-old group.

“This was her first international competition and first at the 50-meter distance,” her father said. “Her ranking would eventually pit her against the No. 1 seed and top-ranked youth archer from Mexico. After 15 scored arrows, the two archers were tied and the shoot boiled down to a one-arrow shootoff. O’Donohue remained calm and shot inside the Mexico archer’s arrow for the win.”

She went on to face the only remaining archer for the gold and finished second. That whet her appetite to elevate her game even more.

Olympic sized goal

“I’d love to go all the way in archery. I would love to shoot in the Olympics,” she said, noting a change has to be made first.

The International Olympic Committee could make that possible by including compound bows. A recent proposal to the IOC was made by World Archery for compound bow inclusion at the 2028 Summer Olympic Games. Currently, only Recurve Limited’s are allowed in the Olympics.

Her ultimate goal is to introduce, coach and teach youngsters the sport, just as she was in the fourth grade by Hill.

Halfway through 2022, she already had enjoyed a year to remember.

Savannah O’Donohue has been coached by Chip Hemphill and his wife, Kathleen Hemphill, who own Hoot & Holler Training Academy JOAD Club in Bossier City. Savannah’s archery interests led her to the academy.

“What amazes me is her drive and determination this past year,” her mother said. “She has matured so much with her training and her focus. She has just really grown up.”

“It’s been pretty remarkable,” her father said. “Also well-deserved. Me and her mother watch her put in the work to achieve. It’s not remarkable knowing how hard she works at it.

“I won’t speak for her mother but it’s amazing to see the things she can do when she’s shooting. I see her in practice and putting in work. She shoots that score in practice.”

Her parents took up archery after their daughter did. So did her maternal grandfather, Ricky Leger. They try to keep up with her but, her father said, “It’s very humbling to line up with her and try to shoot with her.”

Practice? Many days she unleashes as many as 400 arrows, 15 shots at a time, her mother said. Two-hour practices are the norm, according to her father.

Early in her career, practices were at a warehouse her father owned, she said. Since then there are two practices a week with the team at Benton Middle School and more practices at Hoot and Holler’s facility 20 minutes from their Benton home.

Scott O’Donohue is a New Orleans native and April is from Rayne. They met in Lake Charles and moved to the Bossier City area in 2012 before relocating to Benton.

Many tournaments lie ahead, none more than the upcoming Vegas Shoot, the largest, most prestigious indoor archery tournament, scheduled in February.

And, oh, she has to qualify this fall for the team at Benton Middle School. Based on her current performance, that shouldn’t be a problem.

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About Don Shoopman 484 Articles
Don Shoopman fishes for freshwater and saltwater species mostly in and around the Atchafalaya Basin and Vermilion Bay. He moved to the Sportsman’s Paradise in 1976, and he and his wife June live in New Iberia. They have two grown sons.

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