Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
Youngsters sling arrows with accuracy
PASTIMES: SPORT RIGHT ON TARGET
BY LIANA BAYNE
THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Logan Weller, his face a mask of concentration beneath his mohawk, fit a carbon arrow into his bow,
pulled back the string and let the arrow fly—straight into the center of the target.
Logan, 11 and a Freedom Middle School sixth-grader, is one of the more competitive young archers in the area.
During the summer he practiced three hours a day. He’s participated in national competitions and earned medals in indoor and outdoor archery contests.
Most days, he nails targets at Manahoac Bowmen archery club off Herndon Road in Spotsylvania.
But his competition schedule has taken him to Pennsylvania and Kentucky as well.
“At least he’s not behind the video games,” said Logan’s mom, Kathy Weller.
Logan has been interested in archery since he was 5. These days he’s got a lot of company.
Interest in the sport is at an all-time high, driven largely by the popularity of films like “The Hunger Games,” “The Avengers” and Pixar’s “Brave,” all of which featured arrow-shooting protagonists.
NBC reported that more viewers watched archery events during the first week of the Summer Olympics—1.5 million at a time—than basketball. The U.S. men’s team captured a silver medal in London.
“The numbers for archery have been nothing less than huge,” NBC Research President Alan Wurtzel told The Associated Press.
Ready to capture that fascination are coaches like Jerry and Mary Wenzel, who help kids like Logan learn to appreciate the sport.
The Wenzels have been teaching beginners and Junior Olympic Archery Development classes—aimed at archers ages 8 to 20—at Manahoac since they moved to the area from Maryland in 2005. Wenzel said he thinks young students can develop self-esteem by doing archery.
“It’s an individual sport and allows anybody to progress at their own pace,” he said. “They can get out of it what they put in. People can build confidence and appreciation for their own ability.”
REWARDING FAMILY TIME
That doesn’t mean parents should run out and buy a bow and a quiver of arrows at the first sign of interest from their children. It pays to do some homework and find a coach who can give younger students a good foundation, Wenzel said.
“If they don’t get started right, they won’t be successful,” he said.
Wenzel said one of the advantages of enrolling in either his beginners or JOAD class is that students don’t need to buy equipment.
Eventually, though, if students stick with the sport, new bows and arrows will accompany long hours practicing and traveling to competitions at local, state and national levels.
New student Rebecca DeVilliers, a Riverbend High School sophomore, said she knows plenty of people inspired by “The Hunger Games” to pursue archery.
“I wanted to do it before ‘The Hunger Games’ was popular,” said the 15-year-old, who finally got around to it about three months ago.
“Archery for me is an outlet,” Rebecca said. “Part of archery is zoning everyone out and focusing on just you.”
It’s a family-friendly sport as well, and plenty of parents support their children’s efforts at Manahoac.
Logan’s dad, John Weller, doesn’t shoot, but he’s been around youth archery so long that he’s able to provide pointers for students when Wenzel’s busy.
“It takes patience from parents,” Weller said. “You have to be willing to read and learn.”
On a recent afternoon, Weller helped 15-year-old Riverbend sophomore Joelle Henry adjust the new sight on her bow. He patiently moved the sight millimeters at a time after each of Joelle’s shots to help her dial it in.
Joelle has been shooting for three years with her brother, Joey, who is 12 and in seventh grade at Chancellor Middle School. Weller said he was working with Joey one day when the youngster experienced a “breakthrough” with his technique.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Weller said.
‘A LIFELONG SPORT’
Wenzel said the style most popular in the mid-Atlantic region is field archery, which is what people learn in the beginners class at Manahoac. Field archery generally takes place outdoors along a course. In JOAD, students practice target archery, which is more like shooting on a range.
During a recent JOAD lesson, Wenzel split his students into groups based on experience. Each young archer worked on a specific skill. Boys and girls are treated equally in practice, though during tournaments, they compete separately and in age divisions.
Jerry and Mary Wenzel both still compete, though both are over 70.
“It’s a lifelong sport,” Mary Wenzel said. “The oldest archer we know of, and we aspire to be that old and still competing, was 101.”
And although it’s an individual sport, archers experience camaraderie during competitions and practices.
“There’s not a lot of cutthroat competition. It’s more of an appreciation of what you’re doing,” Jerry Wenzel said.
“In my opinion, it’s a nicer climate [than some other sports],” Kathy Weller said. “Everybody’s willing to help each other.”
Liana Bayne: 540/374-5444