Bethel Schools' Archery Team earned first place in the state in both the elementary and middle school divisions. Students now have their sights set on the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky this May.
Practice begins at Gladys Jung Elementary, when two whistles sound, it’s time for the students to grab their bows. They line up at several different targets: the bullseye shot, placed at 15 meters, and the 3D animal shots, starting at 11 meters and moving back to 15 meters.
“The kids go through extensive training,” said team head coach Rafe Johnson. “It doesn’t seem like it’d be hard, but there are eleven steps to the archery success and they start there with handling their bows, pulling their arrows out one at a time. Only one kid at a target at a time.”
Johnson also teaches PE and Math at Gladys Jung. He gestures to his daughter, tenth grader Rylee Johnson, who is also on the nationals team.
“Notice how they carry their arrows," said Johnson. “Rylee’s got her tips covered and she’s carrying them with two hands so she won’t stab or hurt anybody.”
Students practice twice a week, and this year have added new techniques like flipping around the colored bullseye targets to shoot at the black surface on the back.
“We want the kids to be concerned with their form rather than what the end result is,” said Johnson.
The National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) national tournament awards student finalists in both the team and individual class divisions. For the individual portion, boys compete with boys and girls compete with girls.
Rylee Johnson came in second in the high school girls' individual category, but at this practice she doesn't feel quite in the zone.
“It’s more of a mental thing,” said Johnson. “Like, some days I’m really, like, mentally okay and I shoot really well. But then other days I’m, like, not mentally stable. Well it’s not, like, ‘crazy,’ but it’s, like, not focused I guess. So, you don’t shoot as well at you think.”
Days off the mark aren’t fretted over, though, as this is Rylee’s sixth time qualifying for nationals.
“You see a thousand kids on the line at a time, so you’re constantly, like, there is always shooting happening so it sounds like rain and it’s in this big stadium," said Johnson. You can look down for, like, three miles and it’s just targets. It’s so cool.“
For nationals, students will shoot at bullseye targets and three dimensional animal targets. Scholarships are also given out for team and individual tournaments. For instance, first place teams in the boys and girls bullseye shoot-off receive a $20,000 scholarship each.
The Bethel Schools’ Archery team is made up of 74 students ages nine to eighteen from Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, Gladys Jung Elementary School, and Bethel Regional High School.
To get to Louisville this May, the team has fundraised sixty percent of their travel and hotel costs, says Johnson. The thirteen students selected for the national competition will compete as a team in the high school division, despite their varying ages.
The team is set to compete May 11 through 13 at NASP’s national tournament in Louisville, Kentucky.