GRAY — Malcolm Bourgeois is an active eighth-grader who plays drums and saxophone and is an honor student at Greely Middle School in Cumberland.

He’s also a prodigy in the sport of archery.

In February, the 13-year-old from North Yarmouth won a New England regional competition for his age group, and his scores from that event place him among the best in the nation.

Bourgeois was second in the region as a 12-year-old. He won his age group at 9, 10 and 11.

“When I was 8, it was my first year shooting there and I was very nervous,” he said. “I didn’t shoot very well.”

That hasn’t happened often since. Bourgeois is accustomed to shooting well under pressure.

Recently he set an age-group state record with a perfect score of 300, not only recording five points on every shot for hitting the innermost circle of the target – about the size of a half dollar – but also striking the small X in a nickel-sized ring at the very center – used for breaking ties – on 56 of 60 arrows.

“It’s a very hard thing to get good at,” Bourgeois said of archery, something he’s been doing since the age of 5. “Not so much the shooting aspect as the mental aspect. If your mental game isn’t strong, it makes it hard to shoot well under pressure.”

Bourgeois practices three times a week at Howell’s Gun & Archery Center in Gray or Lakeside Archery in North Yarmouth, and from fall to spring competes nearly every weekend.

During a practice last week at Howell’s, Bourgeois displayed the focus and discipline that have led to his success.

He plucked a 29-inch arrow from the quiver at his belt and fitted it into the string of his compound bow. With three fingers coiled inside a brass release holding the arrow to the bowstring, Bourgeois drew back his right arm, palm out, elbow brushing forehead, knuckles lightly scraping chin and cheek as he carefully sighted his target.

He paused, then slowly rotated his hand to release the tension.

Zing! Thwack!

In a fraction of a second, the arrow covered 20 yards and plunged through the X at the center of a bull’s-eye target mounted on a foam wall.

Successful archers are those “able to focus and concentrate on what you’re doing and not be distracted by everything that’s going on around you,” said Rick Smith, 53, of Cumberland, who has been coaching Bourgeois for five years.

Bourgeois has that ability, along with the strength (he’s 5-foot-8, 180 pounds) and discipline to churn through a dozen “ends” – or rounds – of five-arrow shooting batches throughout a tense and tiring three-day tournament.

In February, Bourgeois took part in a New England regional event in southern Massachusetts that, when combined with a dozen other regional competitions across the country, will make up a national championship.

The first day of the three-day event was reserved for Junior Olympic Archery Development competition. Bourgeois scored 567 out of a possible 600. The second and third days were for the 47th U.S. National Indoor Championships. Out of 120 arrows worth up to 10 points each, Bourgeois racked up a score of 1,145.

Those scores not only won him the regional title, but also placed him first nationally heading into this past weekend. Further competition over the weekend dropped him to second place nationally in each competition behind a boy from Oklahoma.

“I was happy with my scores,” he said. “I knew I would do well if I shot at my full potential.”

There were 14 other archers in his division in Fiskdale, Massachusetts, and they all shoot together like on a golf driving range, only more snug.

“It’s pretty tight,” Smith said. “There’s no extra space.”

Bourgeois has seen others struggle to keep their composure when things get chaotic.

“Anything from people having mental breakdowns and crying,” Bourgeois said, “to people sneezing, coughing, laughing, just messing around. The little things can throw people off in the biggest ways. Or, one bad arrow can get in someone’s head and throw them off for the entire day.”

Bourgeois also finds time for basketball, mountain biking, snowboarding, pond hockey and lacrosse – where he’s a long-stick defender. He fishes and hunts, although he prefers a shotgun for the latter instead of his bow and arrow.

“I do with my bow sometimes,” he said. “But you can’t shoot as far with an arrow. You have a lot more range with a shotgun.”

Maine’s competitive archers range in age from 5 to somewhere in the 70s. Ninety-six archers in 36 divisions compete in the state. They are grouped according to gender, age and type of bow – compound, recurve or bare.

Compound bows have stabilizers, scopes, a cam at the bottom and a wheel at the top for mechanical advantage. The whole setup for Bourgeois cost roughly $2,000.

Recurve bows, the kind shot in Olympic competition, have scopes but no gears. Barebows are the kind used by Robin Hood and Katniss Everdeen.

“I’ve met the lady who trained Katniss,” said Bourgeois, referring to the character portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games.” “Her name is Khatuna Lorig. She’s on the U.S. Olympic team.”

The future for Bourgeois isn’t likely to include Olympics unless the Games embrace the compound bow. Still, there is collegiate archery and international competition and, who knows, maybe even medical school.

Bourgeois learned archery from his father, Marc, the current president of the Maine Archery Association, who learned it from Malcolm’s grandfather, Paul, now 74. A younger brother, Simon, has shown aptitude but doesn’t have the same interest.

“He could take it anywhere he wants,” Smith said of Malcolm’s future in archery. “He could continue and compete in local, regional and national tournaments and be satisfied with that. Or, if he really wanted, he could try to turn pro and compete at the professional level.”


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