This winter, Kentucky high-school students will have another opportunity to compete in a championship sport as archery was made the newest sport-activity to join the championship ranks.
Archery is nothing new to high schools — especially in Jessamine County — but archers will now have the chance to win a state championship.
Kentucky is one of the first states nationally to offer archery as a varsity sport-activity, KHSAA said in an August press release.
Eric Sowers, a teacher at The Providence School who has coached Providence’s archery team for a number of years, will also coach the East and West programs.
Sowers said that it didn’t take much to get the two high schools interested. At the first practice, kids were lined up at the door of the Physical Activities Center. The first three practices turned into tryouts has he had more than enough athletes to field a team.
“It’s really exciting. We didn’t have a single kid not come back from the first practice,” Sowers said.
The archery program was originally designed as an in-school component — after-school programs and tournaments were an outcome of the success.
“Jessamine County was in the first round, eight years ago, of schools that signed up and got grants and equipment — specifically East and West middle and high schools,” Sowers said. “(The middle schools) started program, so the kids got to go in and shoot and get some experience.”
“Based on some of the work done in the middle schools, we’re going to have some pretty good programs,” Sowers said.
A full team is 26 members — 24 shooters with two alternates. A team must have 16 shooters to compete — at least four girls and four boys.
After all 16 shoot, teams take the top four girls’ scores and the top four boys’ scores and then the next four scores regardless of gender.
An athlete shoots 15 arrows from 10 meters and then 15 arrows from 15 meters.
The target is made up of five color bands with two bands in each color. The center band is 10 points, and each band decreases by one point the farther it is from the center.
A perfect score for a shooter is 300.
“To score a perfect score, you’d shoot all 30 of the arrows into a spot about the size of a baseball in the center of the target,” Sowers said. “That’s not easy to do. These guys don’t have sights.”
Sowers said some of the Providence athletes he has worked with were scoring in the 260s or 270s with the occasional 280.
The best team scores will be the 3,400 range.
“That will be the score that will be competing in state and national championships,” Sowers said.
Anything over 3,300 is “incredibly good”; 3,200 is “good”; and 3,100 is “OK.”
Unlike baseball, in which every player has a different kind of glove or bat, all of the archery equipment is standard. All shooters use the Matthews Genesis bow. The bow can be used by any shooter regardless of their physical makeup. All shooters use the Easton 1820 arrows.
Shooters can only use enhancements such as finger guards or sound/vibration dampeners on the bow.
“(Archery) is really inclusive and really fun,” Sowers said. “(Athletes) have the opportunities for instant success every time they let go of the arrow, so when they hit that bullseye, their face just lights up and it’s a new day.”
The high schools will be coached by Sowers (a life-long shooter) along with a handful of other certified and experienced coaches with years of bow experience.
“We really have a well-developed program in place,” he said.
Sowers says with the help of KHSAA, he expects archery to grow even larger and faster than it has. East, West and Providence have their own separate practices on Wednesday nights and plan on shooting in about four tournaments this year. The state tournament is March 18-19 in Louisville.