CONIFER — Tanner Clem isn’t Robin Hood.
The 11-year-old, however, might just be better when it comes to stringing up a bow and hitting a target. And he doesn’t have to wear those green tights.
Tanner, a fifth-grader at Marshdale Elementary, has been into archery since he was 4. About three years ago, he entered his first formal competition. Last month, he took first place in his age group at the National Indoor Championships in Louisville, Ky.
Bright-eyed, thoughtful and a young man of few words and many smiles, Tanner said he went into the championships with confidence after taking second in a prestigious tournament in Las Vegas.
“I said I could win it,” Tanner said. “I was getting really good at the house and stuff.”
And this isn’t just any house. His father, Tony, has been competing nationally in archery tournaments for 20 years. The shop above the house where he and wife Cassie run their own business is filled with the heads and skins of animals the family has hunted, while also providing a place to shoot targets inside and outside, from a standing position or from a tree stand.
And that is what Tanner does extremely well. And with little fanfare.
Tanner, who also plays running back in football, enjoys baseball and lacrosse, has a competitive switch that when flipped turns him into a talented athlete who can do pretty amazing things. Tony sees this when he watches Tanner run over his peers on the football field and is seemingly oblivious afterward to his path of destruction.
Now put that in archery terms, a discipline that is diametrically opposed to team sports.
In his national tournament, Tanner stands 20 yards from a target that has five circles. In the middle of each circle is the proverbial X, and contestants have four minutes to shoot at all five circles.
Form is essential. Breathing, positioning, tension on the string, aim and releasing. Watching him work is a moment in athletic anticipation. He takes aim for a while, then, in a blur, the arrow is gone and smacks the target.
Out of 120 Xs at the national tournament, Tanner marked the spot 118 times.
“(I just) do what’s natural,” Tanner smiles.
Funny. Because no one else thinks it’s that easy.
“He didn’t get as nervous as me watching him shoot,” said Tony, who has more than one silver bowl trophy for winning a national championship. “The dads, they were all impressed watching him shoot. But the last end, that’s when you kind of get nervous, he had a 1-X lead. He had to hit them all, otherwise they’d be tied and have a shoot-off. He just stood up there and pounded them all. The last five arrows were just right on the crosshair of the X.”
The kid is lethal … in a competitive way.
“I was nervous in Vegas at first, but after the first day I was better,” Tanner said. “When I was 8 my Dad put together a bow and I went to nationals for the first time.”
Naturally, Tanner wants more. He wants to go back to Las Vegas and take first place this time. He also wants to keep competing anywhere he can and get better.
And before you wonder, the answer is “yes.” A guy could make a living off being an archer, and without the storming the castle and fighting the Huns in the forest as previous archers contended with.
Tony estimates that national tournaments in his days had about 1,000 competitors shooting for over $3,500 of prize money. Today, it’s about 2,000 competitors going for $35,000 — and that doesn’t count the money from sponsors, which means a pro could take $50,000 from one big tournament win.
Tanner, however, got about $50 from his victory.
And since he isn’t Robin Hood, Tanner didn’t have to steal any more just to give it to the poor.