Carter Carmin and Ava Johnson draw back their bow, one eye closed with the other focused on the target ahead of them.
They have five more arrows in their quivers, and although it’s just practice, they’re as focused as ever.
The two fifth graders each release their arrows. Bullseye.
“It's pretty cool to see what you can do,” Ava said. “A lot of times, people doubt themselves and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t shoot that well.’ But then you see your score and say, ‘Oh, I actually didn't do that bad.’”
Ava has been involved with Wes-Del Elementary School’s archery program since fourth grade; this past season was Carter’s first. Ava said other than watching family members use a bow and arrow, she didn’t have any experience.
“I saw my dad and uncle go hunting and thought, ‘Oh, that looks cool,’ she said.
At a statewide competition involving 11 schools during the 2022-23 season, Ava finished second for elementary school girls, and Carter placed second for elementary school boys at the same event. Although Carter said he had a small amount of experience before joining the program through having his own bow at home, the difficulty of archery surprised him most.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks because some people think you don't have to focus, [they think] you just shoot straight and hit the thing,” he said. “You've got to actually look at aiming points, and it depends on your bow power.”
Wes-Del runs its program through the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), in which the Warriors compete in statewide events during the season. Only two out of eight schools in Delaware County have an archery program, the other being Burris Laboratory School.
David Lamb is the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teacher at Wes-Del. He and Wes-Del Elementary School’s physical education (P.E.) teacher, Elizabeth Puckett, each shoot a bow and arrow in their free time, which inspired them to start the Warriors’ archery club and team over half a decade ago.
They thought no one on Wes-Del’s administrative staff at the time would go for it, but Wes-Del Elementary’s former principal’s granddaughter was part of Monroe Central’s archery program and gave the pair the green light, advancing talks with the superintendent who later approved it. When the two began the program, Wes-Del received a grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources that covered all but $500, which came out of Puckett’s and Lamb’s pockets, for funding.
Lamb and Puckett feel having archery programs in schools across the state may open doors for other similar activities to grow into a full-fledged program. Lamb said after combining both teams and clubs across the elementary, middle and high school, over 50 students at Wes-Del are involved in the archery program.
“This is a program that you may not have your quarterback or your point guard,” Lamb said. “These are kids that don't do a lot else a lot of times, and so it's just kind of a neat opportunity.”
‘Small school, big opportunities.’ It’s the motto Wes-Del faculty and students pride themselves on.
Both students said they made new friends through the archery program, including middle schoolers, who they look up to figuratively and literally. The coaches enjoy seeing members of the program not only form relationships with fellow members but strengthen bonds between family members too.
“I love to see a dad and their daughter because that's traditionally a relationship you don't see grounded in archery, but some of our best shooters are girls,” Lamb said. “I mean, they are good, and I love to see that girl power come out.”
Carter and Ava formed a relationship with the coaches too. Ava said having Lamb and Puckett as leaders makes things like practice even more enjoyable.
“They come up with challenges, and they’re also funny, which helps because you don’t want a mean coach,” she said.
In Puckett’s P.E. classes, she has students practice archery starting in third grade as part of the class curriculum. Some students are scared, some are eager, but all are willing to try it.
Through this, Puckett said she is able to see who may be interested in the program.
“When we're playing a traditional sport like basketball, you just have that handful of kids [that aren’t] into it. But with this, everybody is kind of starting on the same level because not a lot of kids come in here [as] studs at archery,” she said. “They all kind of grow from the same level.”
Those allowed to compete within the program have to be in fourth grade or older, though Lamb and Puckett said there have been kindergarteners who expressed interest. Since students are exposed to an activity that involves sharp arrows and the potential for harmful mishaps at an early age, Puckett and Lamb ensure proper protocols enforced by NASP are followed.
“The kids know that when we come in,” Puckett said, “I give them a little scary talk about real life things, and then afterward, I'm like, ‘Okay, take a deep breath, we're gonna do this.’ I just want them to know how scary it could be.”
For example, when Ava and Carter finished taking their practice shots, Puckett told them to hang up their bows before going to take the arrows out of the targets. When they take arrows out of the target, they have to drop each individual arrow on the floor before picking them all up at once.
With this, an added advantage to getting involved with a non-traditional sport comes down to longevity. While it's possible to remain involved with sports like football or basketball after playing competitively, it’s far more physically demanding than Lamb said archery is.
“This is a lifetime sport,” Puckett said. “Once they get started, they can do this for a really, really long time until they can't pull a bow back.”