Student archers from Coffman Cove, Naukati and Kasaan line up to compete for the National Archery in Schools 2013 State Tournament in the Thorne Bay School gym.
Thorne Bay Assistant Coach John Stevens reviews scoring rules for Hydaburg archer Alex Peele in the Thorne Bay School gym during the 2013 State Tournament for the National Archery in Schools Program.
Story last updated at 4/17/2013 - 2:15 pm
Inside the school gym a succession of arrows thud against the distant row of targets in uneven cadence; reverberating an exaggerated echo in the enormous space of the room. Fifteen targets line the far wall for the big competition where numerous archers take their places, two for each target.
The competitors, students from the Southeast Island School District and the Hydaburg School District, are pouring into Thorne Bay from all over Prince of Wales Island for the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) 2013 Statewide Tournament.
In Coffman Cove, Ivan Carter eagerly anticipates the challenge but has become nervous after shooting poorly at his last practice. A national competitor in the past, Carter, now age 14, began participating in archery at age eight. Carter knew he could do better than he had done at practice. He decided to use the long car ride from Coffman Cove to Thorne Bay to totally focus on techniques he had been taught.
"I set my mind to it," Carter says.
His confidence and concentration paid off with scores that qualify him for the national competition to be held in Kentucky in May.
Thorne Bay student Taylee Nyquest, all high top female shooter in the state for four years, agrees that archery is a "mentally demanding sport," adding that the national competition in Kentucky is a very different challenge (compared to small local events) where 800 or more students all gather to compete in enormous rooms lined with lengthy rows of targets.
"The biggest shock was walking up to the shooting line and hearing all those arrows. It absolutely sounds like thunder," Nyquest says.
Nyquest relates that she initially undertook archery for fun but really loves the adrenaline rush from competing and the high standard of instruction she receives. Grateful for the dedication and patient encouragement of her mentors, Nyquest said, smiling, "I'm inspired by the coach."
Her coach, archery director for all SISD schools, James Stevens, who regularly visits each school to teach students and coaches, receives continuous kudos from students, parents and most anyone familiar with his tenacious mentoring. Angie Near, Teaching Aide at Port Protection School, spoke highly of both James Stevens and his Assistant Coach, John Stevens, saying, "This thing happened because of them. They bring out the best in the kids; always very positive and patient. They are wonderful."
One of the Port Protection students to qualify for the high school team going to national competition in Kentucky is an exchange student from Tengchong in the Yunnan Province, China. Yang Wen Chang, a 10th grader, first tried archery when he arrived in Port Protection at the beginning of the school year.
"I tried it and they said you are good," he said. "I enjoy it so I continue to participate."
At the sound of the whistle, students march forward across the shiny floor to retrieve their arrows and evaluate their success. Good results are met with broad smiles and compliments from their peers. Students refrain from jumping and cheering; moving instead in a calm, orderly fashion in response to whistle signals. Safety is always first.
Shooters return their arrows to their holder at the shooting line and continue walking on to the racks where they hang their bows and await the next round.
Onlookers in the bleachers and seated in chairs behind the bow racks appeal to their favorite shooters for clues on the outcome of their latest efforts. No loudspeaker announces the play by play details and targets are much too far away to see very well but there is an option to view the event through one of seven spotting scopes arranged on tables up on the stage for a donation to the archery program, which several people are taking advantage of.
Students statewide are able to compete without costly travel expenses by carefully controlled monitoring of rules applied at their home school. The students that traveled to Thorne Bay could have competed at home but are strongly encouraged to experience multi-school events if possible to become used to the noise and bustle of large group participation, a different shooting environment, and the corresponding pressure to concentrate.
NASP is a joint venture between the Department of Education and the Division of Wildlife Conservation. Several archery equipment manufacturers and local sportsman's organizations are program partners. The program strives to promote self-confidence, teamwork, discipline, physical fitness and a life-long participation in the sport of archery. Millions of students from around the U.S. and several other countries take part in the program with divisions for elementary, middle and high school.
SISD has offered the archery program since James Stevens' dad, John Stevens, began coaching in 2008. James, still in school, won the all high male shooter for the state in 2008 and all high shooter for his high school division in 2009 as well as placing 23rd out of 1,000 competitors for his high school division in the national tournament. He discovered an aptitude and passion for the sport, which he has moved on to coach and direct.
The SISD schools involved in the archery program include Coffman Cove, Edna Bay, Hollis, Kasaan, Naukati, Port Alexander, Port Protection, Thorne Bay and Whale Pass. Hydaburg School District has recently begun the program and sent four competitors to Thorne Bay for the state tournament this year.
In the past three years SISD has held first place in all divisions for Alaska. This year they again won first in middle and high school divisions. Until this year SISD claimed the titles for top male and female shooters in the state since 2008. This May, one elementary school, six middle school, and 24 high school students from the district will travel to Kentucky for the national tournament.