" “Deep in the meadow, hidden far away; A cloak of leaves, a moonbeam ray; Forget your woes and let your troubles lay; And when it's morning again, they'll wash away”
? Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
"
WINGATE – Situated in the rolling meadows of northwest Montgomery County; miles away, as the arrow flies –– and it does — Dave Stephens’ Hilltop Archery and Pro Shop serves as home base to some seventy young athletes, competing in one of the country’s fastest growing youth sports.
Stephens is the head coach of the Hilltop Archers, a competitive archery club for school-aged children. And although it’s not exactly the dystopian District 12, found in Suzanne Collins’s bestselling fantasy novel, Hunger Games, the white, single-story wood and metal structure on Stephens’ farm is overcrowded with young shooters, and sings with the telltale “thwock” of arrows hitting their targets.
“The sport is growing so fast,” said Stephens, who founded the Archers only three years ago. “We started with just a few local kids, and now we have kids from Boone, Vermillion, even Benton, White, and Tippecanoe Counties coming here.”
Competitive archery is not new, but its movement into team youth competition has exploded. The Archers compete under the auspices of the Scholastic 3-D Archery (S3DA) Program. Based in Williamsburg, Kentucky, the group boasts members in 38 states, and is growing. S3DA defines the rules, and oversees competition, including National Championships in each of the sport’s three classifications.
“We compete in both Indoor and Outdoor Target, and in Outdoor 3-D,” said Stephens, who explained the classifications. Indoor and Outdoor Target is similar to Olympic-style archery, and the familiar four-colored ringed bullseye. Three dimensional (3-D) targeting uses life-like imitations of common hunting game as targets, stationed on a defined course.
“You don’t have to know how to hunt, but it doesn’t hurt either,” quipped the coach.
In their short existence, the Archers can already boast a National Champion.
Ava Mershon captured the Elementary 3-D Traditional title at the 2018 S3DA Outdoor Target National Championships, held last June. In addition, the Archers claimed two more top places in the competition. Taylor Hudson and Chase Vance each landed spots on the podium.
“Chase had a remarkable tournament,” said Stephens. “Out of 42 targets, he hit 40 of them perfectly. It was the highest point total I’ve seen for someone his age.”
All team members are coached in archery skills, enabling shooters to gain valuable experience as they progress through each level of the sport. They also receive instruction in ethical bowhunting practices and wildlife conservation.
Moreover, a bigger prize awaits the top performers at the end of the program. Some shooters will gain the opportunity to earn college scholarships.
“That’s what’s driving the sport,” said Stephens. “More and more colleges are adding archery teams, and they are looking for athletes. We’ve had two kids earn full-ride scholarships to college through this program.”
The fluorescent green and white clad Archers begin their season, this Thursday, November 8, with a public “call out” and practice. Teams are selected based on age –– Elementary (Grades 3-5), Middle School (Grades 6-8), and High School (Grades 9-12). All teams are open to boys and girls.
Like Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen, the girls, Stephens explains, do just fine.
“Bow technology allows us to compensate for any lack of strength the girls might have. We can adjust the speed (feet per second) up or down accordingly. In fact, girls are easier to coach.”
Participation does require an earnest commitment, and sizable investment. The equipment, likely either an elite Olympic recurve or a standard composite bow, can cost from $700 to $1,200. However, less expensive alternatives exist, and Stephens and his coaches can advise parents on their options.
The coach expects each squad to carry about twenty shooters this year. “It is kind of like a track meet. Everyone participates, but only the top five scores will count.”
On the Archers’ schedule this year is a club squad from nearby Fountain Central, and a school team from Attica. Competition begins in earnest after the first of the year when Regional tournaments fill alternating weekends, all in the lead-up to Nationals in June.
The 2018 Archers are sure hungry to get started. Let the games begin.