A bow and arrow, however, is a different story. At least it was until about four years ago when her daughter became interested in the archery team at Timber Point Elementary. “I became really involved in the activity and got to know her coach at the time.” Sherri said. She found out that he also happened to coach the sport at the next level at Excelsior Middle School. Since Sherri was spending so much of her time at her daughter’s archery practices and tournaments she decided to take the course to become an instructor. Last year she was one of the assistant coaches at Excelsior, and this year she took over the entire program.
The middle school’s program was initially introduced in the P.E. classes, and when the students enjoyed their experience, it formed into an after school club where a lot of talent emerged. Their team has 65 girl and boy students this year, making it the biggest numbers sport on campus. The team also includes handicapped and special education students.
Sherri holds three different practices per week which separates the students into smaller groups. Wednesday practices are the largest with over 40 students. Since 90 percent of this year’s team is comprised of brand new players, it is especially important that the first two weeks of the season consist of a training course that teaches them safety, the rules of the sport, and the 11 steps. The kids learn proper form and stance before being given a string bow to practice with and become familiar prior to an actual bow. From there students learn to shoot at a target from seven meters, then the standard 10 and 15 meters.
Anyone can compete at the state level; there is no minimum qualifier. “They leave it so that anyone can participate in this sport. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad. Anyone can accomplish a goal,” Sherri said. This year is shaping up to be the fourth year in a row that Excelsior will win first place in the state of California at their level. “There aren’t many other schools in California that have this program,” Sherri said. “There are a little over 20 from elementary to high schools, which is a lot more than people would expect, but it’s nothing compared to the south.” The winner of the state tournament is automatically qualified for nationals which is held in Kentucky, as well as is given a special bow by the state of California’s NASP (National Archery in the School Program). As for everyone else who doesn’t take first place, making it to nationals requires a team score of 2800 points. A perfect individual score is 300, and many of the Excelsior players’ scores land around 275. “The past two years we’ve taken the top 18 kids,” Sherri said. “It started with only three or four and kept growing.” The plan is to take another 18 kids this year.
Last year’s national competition included 12,000 kids from schools across the United States. This year they are expecting close to 14,000. The students are broken up into age brackets of elementary, middle, and high school. Then individually within those brackets the students will be divided by girls, boys, and overall. Held within a huge exposition center, about 500 kids shoot at the same time, all lined up in a line. “It’s a phenomenal thing to see,” Sherri said. “Not ever has there been a major injury.” The students shoot at traditional targets as well as 3D hunting animals like deer, bears, and turkeys. The entire tournament is held over the course of three days where each individual participant will shoot 15 arrows from 10 meters and 15 arrows from 15 meters. Then if they choose to participate in the 3D round they will shoot an additional 30 arrows. “All we’re looking for from our kids is the joy of competition, the ability to explore and see new things, and to most importantly have fun,” Sherri said.
Last year Excelsior students came in at about 200 out of over 1,000 teams. “We did pretty well for a California school,” Sherri said. “Over in Kentucky they live it, breathe it, and it’s an everyday thing. So they’re always surprised to find out we’re from California.” At one of the year’s national competitions, Excelsior scored 20th in the 3D division. Up until last year they were the only school from the state to travel to Kentucky, and it looks like this year that may be the case again. “We’re trying to represent California, but I’d love to see more schools participate.”
Sherri’s hope for the future of archery is for continual growth locally and throughout the state. “It would be great to have more competitors close by,” Sherri said. “We can help other schools get certified to have the program. The state of California gives out grants for it, which is how we were able to get our first set of bows. A lot of people don’t know that.” As for Excelsior specifically, Sherri hopes that the kids receive the attention that they deserve for their accomplishments. She would also love to find sponsors so that she can take a full team of 24 students to nationals. “It’s such an amazing sport for kids to participate in. It teaches discipline, respect, and honor. Just watching the kids in Kentucky you see everyone shaking hands and supporting each other. It exemplifies such great sportsmanship.”