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By DANELLE LANDIS
Daily News Staff Writer
Point Higgins Elementary School students have been aiming for excellence in their archery classes with teacher and coach Sam Hernandez.
The classes are held as part of the National Archery in the Schools Program, which holds a statewide competition in February, with Ketchikan teams competing virtually. In Alaska, the program is a joint venture with NASP, the state Department of Education and the state Division of Wildlife Conservation. Point Higgins is the only Ketchikan school that holds archery classes, Hernandez said.
In an after-school class on Dec. 5, about 15 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students arrived in the Point Higgins gym for practice. Racks of rainbow-colored bows stood at the gym’s center, and nearby, white PVC pipes on stands bristled with arrows. Blue-taped lines on the shiny floor marked the “waiting line,” the “shooting line” and the “target line.” Fat square targets on wheels stood at the far wall.
Hernandez gathered the students at the rear of the gym, where he had placed a laptop computer on a stand, and an easel pad listing the “11 Steps of Archery.” The students settled on the floor to listen to Hernandez’s short lecture.
Safety awareness was the first message Hernandez addressed, and it was a constant thread throughout the class.
“You are my eyes and ears,” Hernandez told the students. “If you see something unsafe, you need to call ‘emergency!’”
He then reminded them of what to do next, if they hear “emergency!” called out.
“You stop, and then you will nock the arrow and put it back in the quiver and then put bows on toes until the situation is taken care of,” he told them.
Hernandez also reviewed the safety procedures in several situations, such as a dropping an arrow. He reminded the children to never reach forward for a dropped arrow, as someone behind them could be shooting right then.
Next on the agenda was a reminder of what he expected from the students as they took turns shooting.
“If you are shooting, I need you to focus on your target,” he said, reminding them that there will be two students shooting simultaneously at each target, so they would need to keep an eye on their particular arrows’ color.
He also reminded them that although a bullseye shot is excellent, the real accomplishment is a high cumulative score for all five of the arrows they shoot in each turn at the target. He also reminded them that their individual score is not the ultimate measure of success.
“Remember, it’s not individual scores, it’s a team score,” he said. “You can shoot 300 out of 300, but if the rest of the students are not helping the team, our score’s not going to be big enough. Last year, we missed first place by eight points,” he reminded them.
He also reminded them that every year, the Point Higgins team is getting closer to that first-place goal.
“It’s really up to all of us to do what we’re supposed to do,” he concluded.
Hernandez next told students that they should have memorized the “11 Steps of Archery” posted on the easel. Those steps walk through the minute details of shooting, such as stance, nocking the arrow, the mechanics of drawing the bowstring, posture, release and follow-through.
Hernandez said he has been teaching archery for 12 years, this year being the sixth at Point Higgins. He has a certified helper, Brian Elliot, who is a parent of one of the team members.
Before the students began to shoot, Hernandez adjusted the bows as needed to have the appropriate draw tension for each child’s strength. Each bow starts with a 20 pound draw, Hernandez said.
Students split into groups, with some lined up to shoot and some who watched an archery tutorial video on the laptop while they waited for their turns.
Hernandez said that the students practice four days per week, two times per day. At the end of every class, he requires the students to perform pull-ups, chin holds or flex hangs. He said he encourages students to do three sets of 10 push ups every night at home as well. He said strength is critical to high performance in the sport.
Sixth-grade student Reegan Joel said this is her first year in the archery class.
“All the other years, I was nervous to do it, because I’d have to do it in front of so many people,” she said, adding, “but, since I’m in sixth grade, I wanted to try more things before I leave, because this is one of the only schools that does archery.”
She said her favorite thing about archery is shooting, but the most difficult thing is memorizing the 11 steps of archery. She said she does feel that her skills have improved in only the five days the team had been practicing this school year. Part of her improvement has been due to the fact that she has several bows to practice with at home. Reegan also said she looks forward to actual hunting with a bow as well.
Ally Trugon, a fourth-grader, said she’d been watching her sister practice archery in classes starting when Ally was only in first grade.
“I just like shooting, because it makes me a better archer, that’s for sure,” Ally said. She said she also enjoys the competitive nature of the sport.
“I feel like it’s a cool talent, to be able to shoot a bow and arrow,” Ally added. “Maybe when I’m older, I could be an Olympic one.”
The biggest challenge for Ally, she said, was when the shooting line is moved back to a competition distance.
Hunter Harrell, a fifth-grader, said that a challenge for him is that his fingers start to burn after a round of shooting. This is his third year shooting in archery classes, but his first two years were in classes in an Idaho school district.
“It’s really fun,” he said, adding that he really enjoys the competitions.
Fifth-grader Addison Lewis said this is her first year in archery.
She said she really enjoys shooting as well, but also has had a few physical discomforts.
“I got purple dots on me,” Addison said. She explained that when she pulled the bowstring back, the arrow fletching scraped her skin.
Kylie Vanbuskirk, also a fifth-grader, is in her second year of archery.
“I like shooting bows and arrows — it’s fun,” Kylie said, adding that the most difficult part of archery class actually is “not shooting.”
Fifth-grader Addisen Zink is just starting her first year in archery.
“I love it,” she said.
The most difficult part is getting her arms to hold perfect form, she said. Addisen said she wishes she had participated in earlier years, but had been worried she wouldn’t be able to make it to the early morning classes. She found out this year that she still could be involved, even though she can only make the afternoon sessions.
Addisen said that if she could give advice to students considering taking archery, she would urge them to go for it.
“I would tell them it’s really fun, and it’s something new to try,” she said.
Sage Weber, another fifth-grader, is in her second year of archery. What drew her back in was the challenge of holding the bow correctly, and she said she still is working on improving her aim when shooting from greater distances.
“Mr. Hernandez tells me I have to aim lower,” Sage said.
Sixth-grader Carol Frey, also in her second year, said she is increasingly enamoured of the sport.
“I just like archery, all in all. I think, over the years, I’ve formed more of a bond over archery,” she said.
Carol said that she gets to practice often, because her aunt, who lives right down the road from her house, has a deer-shaped target that their family can shoot at.
“I guess it’s kind of a family sport,” she said.
The most difficult part of archery, she said, was that her bow hand drops when she shoots farther from the target.
“It’s harder to adjust for the distance,” Carol said.
She said she would tell people interested in getting involved with the sport that it is fun, but requires some thought.
“Archery is tricky, you definitely need to be careful with it, because there are a lot of ways you can hurt yourself,” she advised. Carol added that, “if you have the confidence, you can definitely do it.”
Carol said that at first, she lacked confidence.
“I actually thought I wasn’t going to be that good at it,” she said. “I shot more and more and more, and I got really good.”
She listed the skills that are useful in archery. Confidence is important, she again emphasized, but good eyesight helps, as well as having strength. The strength helps so that the archer doesn’t get too tired to aim well at the end of a round, Carol said.
She also said that although she focuses on her individual skill building, there is a more important aspect, especially since, in the final competitions, all team members’ scores are combined.
“You start as a team, you go down as a team, it’s mostly about teamwork,” Carol said.