Between the rhythmic early morning tappings of a winter rainstorm on a metal roof, the deadened thump of an arrow hitting its foam target reverberates through Pleasant Hope’s indoor practice facility Wednesday, Feb. 12.
It’s followed by 24 more of the same, as five members of the Pleasant Hope school district’s inaugural archery team line up and take their first five shots of the week.
Due to limited scheduling, the school’s archery team is able to meet just once a week, coach Brandon Sherrer says, and its archers are ready to let fly, even if it is 6:15 a.m.
“I do basketball after school, so we have to do this before school, which probably limits our numbers for a little bit,” he said.
Several of the team’s archers also compete on the basketball team, but the vast majority don’t play any other sports, he says. The team consists of both middle school and high school students.
“It gives a lot of kids chances to compete that otherwise wouldn’t,” he says. “Some of these kids won’t play any other sports, but something like this allows them to get in there and compete.”
High school principal and athletic director Brent Offerdahl says the district sought to add the archery program after seeing several other schools in the Southwest Conference start archery teams.
“We knew it would be another positive outlet for our kids to succeed in, so we moved forward to offer another activity for our student athletes,” Offerdahl says.
At Wednesday’s practice, students wait their turn to step up to the line and shoot from 10 yards out. Halfway through practice, the shooting stations are moved 5 yards back to position archers 15 yards from the targets.
The design mimics a competition scenario, Sherrer says.
“They’ll shoot a practice round from 10 yards, then three rounds of five arrows,” he says. “Then, they go back to 15 meters, where they have a practice round, then three rounds of five arrows. That’s a standard tournament.”
The team has been to three such tournaments this year, he says. It will head to a fourth meet in Billings next week, where competitors will take aim at animal targets, stationed between 10 and 15 yards away, he says.
Pleasant Hope’s first foray into the archery range has been fruitful, but humbling, he says.
Pirate archers have been greatly outnumbered at most meets, which place both team and individual scorers based on the arrows they land in their targets.
For a team’s scores to count, it must have at least four members of opposing genders, he says, so at least four boys or at least four girls.
Some programs are massive, he says.
“Some of them have 60 kids,” he says. “Some of them have 80. We’ve only been competing individually. A lot of teams we’ve been competing against, they’ve been shooting for four or five years, so we’re not scoring as well as them.”
Key to the program’s improvement, Sherrer says, is focusing on breath control and taking time to aim.
“Here they're relaxed, but at a competition, you can tell the nerves are there,” he says. “It’s an environment that a lot of them don’t get to see very often.”
Standing off to the side as a line of archers look down the range, Sherrer tells the group he’s counting as they aim, holding them to a three second wait time. Competitions give archers two minutes per round, and most of his team has fired all of its arrows within the first minute.
“Focus on taking your time to aim,” he tells the group. “I counted at the last tournament, and most of you were releasing within one second of bringing the bow up. That’s way too fast.”
Between the raindrops and the thumping of arrows on target, Sherrer delivers a count, adding to the rhythm already in place.
Watching his archers learn to slow down and gain control is watching them develop a skill they’ll always use, he says.
“It’s good for kids to feel the pressure and step up and do something that they’re scared to do,” he says.