Whether you’re just beginning to think about colleges or you’re about to start college this fall, chances are you’re already considering what college might be like for you. You may not know what you’ll want to take from home (life-sized One Direction poster, anyone?), but the great news is that you can definitely take archery with you.
Archery is one of the few sports anyone can try at any point in life. It’s fun, reduces stress and makes you feel alive. So if you already shoot archery, keep it up. If you haven’t tried archery but would like to, many colleges have archery clubs that don’t require experience. And whatever your level of archery interest or competitiveness, there’s a college archery option for you.
To help, we asked four archery coaches from three college/university archery programs to discuss how to transition from hobbyist to collegiate archer.
Meet the Coaches:
Derek Davis, Columbia University, New York City
Davis began his archery career in a college physical education class, and has been head coach for Columbia University’s all-women archery team since 2004.
Lorinda Cohen-Gomez, Texas A&M, College Station, Texas
Cohen-Gomez earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in kinesiology from Texas A&M. Now she’s an assistant instructional professor and archery club coach/tournament director at A&M.
Andy Puckett, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Puckett became head coach at James Madison University in Fall 2012, after assisting coach Bob Ryder for 16 years. Puckett was All-American in archery in 1993, Ryder’s first year as head coach.
Frank Thomas, Texas A&M
Thomas arrived at Texas A&M as a graduate assistant and helped with the school’s archery program for a semester. He has coached at A&M since 1981and is now associate department head and chair of its physical education activity program. Thomas was head coach of the men’s team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
What do you look for when choosing team members?
Derek Davis: Personality comes first. I want student athletes who will work well as a team. Also, work ethic, experience on a national and possibly international level and, of course, current skill level.
Andy Puckett: At JMU we have an open policy (for) the archery club/team. We have an open invitation in the fall, and on average introduce more than 100 students to archery. Whoever chooses to continue is welcome at our practices.
When recruiting, I look for well-rounded archers. If I have a top-level archer looking at JMU, great! But we can mold just about anyone into a competitive collegiate archer.
Frank Thomas: We look at who practices enough, has the top scores, and how well they shoot. Our rules allow anyone who owns equipment and pays dues to join the club, but they must shoot well to be part of the team. We take a lot of people to tournaments to compete in male and female recurve, compound and bowhunter divisions.
How long has a typical collegiate-level archer practiced archery?
DD: On average, about four years.
Lorinda Cohen-Gomez: It varies with the variety of talent. Some members have years of experience and others got started in our physical education classes.
AP: We see anything from first-timers who have never touched a bow before college to Junior USA Team members who already have years of experience.
Do men and women compete separately? What are the divisions?
DD: The Columbia University team is women only. We have compound and recurve.
AP: Collegiate archery has six competitive divisions: recurve (male and female), compound (male and female) and bowhunter (male and female).
Are scholarships available?
DD: As a member of the Ivy League, we do not offer athletic scholarships, but we have aggressive “need-based” financial aid.
AP: JMU does not have, nor have we ever had, scholarships for archery.
FT: Former students feel they got a lot out of the program and give back about $10,000 every year. The university usually gives $1,000 scholarships to 10 students. The money goes toward school, not archery. Our scholarship program has been active about 10 years.
What are the costs of being a collegiate archer? Do the students pay all expenses?
LG: Costs vary by school and by tournaments. A&M tries to pick up different expenses to help, but students definitely must contribute. For in-state tournaments, the school pays all expenses, except food and entry fees. For out-of-state tournaments the school pays for hotel and rental car fees, and the students cover registration, airfare and food.
AP: JMU archery club members pay $125 annual dues to join the club. Students buy their own equipment, and the club pays for all travel expenses and memberships. The club makes this happen through extensive fundraising efforts.
FT: A&M hosts three to five indoor and outdoor tournaments every year to raise funds. Our archery facilities are the best in the country. The recreation center houses our indoor facility, which has 14 targets, special floors and special lighting. Our outdoor range has fans for when it’s hot, and a covered area where archers can get out of the sun to shoot. The outdoor range also is lit so students can practice anytime.
How many members are on your team?
AP: JMU has around 60 club members; 25 to 30 travel and compete.
FT: A&M has 40 to 45 club members. Half shoot compounds and half shoot recurves.
How often does the team practice?
DD: Four days per week plus two days of strength training.
AP: JMU archers practice six days a week throughout the school year.
FT: Practice is required four days a week, but most team members practice more often.
What opportunities are there for competitive archers? Where do they start?
LG: Collegiate archery is fun because of the team aspect it brings to an archer and the chance to represent your school. Schools and archers can join the United States Collegiate Archery Association (USCA) and shoot in collegiate events.
AP: Official collegiate competition is restricted to USCA-sanctioned events. However, teams can find local clubs that welcome college students at their events. It’s pretty easy to find colleges with some sort of archery club. Many students find us through university-sponsored activity fairs.
FT: Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) is the best place to start. National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) also offers a basic introduction to archery. A&M makes many of our own archers. Two of our male recurve archers are three-time All-Americans. They started when they came to A&M. We can take any beginner who’s interested and go from there. We also try to recruit top archers around the country. We have a reputation because of our past success, so many archers already know about our program.
What kind of equipment do collegiate archers use?
DD: At Columbia we compete with the highest quality equipment. We also have entry-level equipment for training.
AP: Compounds range from hunting bows to fully decked-out tournament setups. Most of our recurve archers shoot World Archery style tournament setups.
When was your archery team founded?
DD: More than 30 years ago.
AP: JMU Archery will celebrate 50 years in 2015. We’ve had only three head coaches since the team was founded in 1965.
What makes a good archery rivalry?
DD: Repeated matchups. The most fun are balanced, friendly rivalries where both sides respect each other and it’s all in the name of fun.
LG: Friendly competition and good sportsmanship are important. You see a lot of that in collegiate archery because of the camaraderie people have with their school and teammates.
AP: Stiff competition and friendship. One of the great things about archery as a sport is the fact you can have a serious rivalry on the field, but everyone becomes friends with mutual respect for each other’s skills.
FT: The next-best team. You must have someone you want to beat.
Who is your team’s greatest rival and why?
DD: Texas A&M. I have great respect for the coaches and the program, and our team members are friendly competitors.
LG: Our biggest rival has been James Madison University. We’ve gone back and forth with them on winning national championships.
AP: Over the years, the big rivals have changed. It even can come down to rivals in each division. Twenty years ago it was the world against Arizona State University. Now it’s the world against Texas A&M. In the East, JMU vs. Columbia University is always a strong rivalry in women’s recurve. Compound shooters always try to best the Pennsylvania schools.
FT: Of the past 17 national championships, A&M has won 15 and JMU has won two. You must have a large team and be good across the board. Schools that are competitive have consistent leadership. A school might be good for a few years, but when those kids graduate, there must be leaders to keep the team moving forward.
Where can people learn more about collegiate archery opportunities?
LG: They can visit the USCA website (www.uscollegiatearchery.org) to see which schools have teams and programs.
AP: One of the best things about this sport is that just about everyone will talk to you and share information. If someone is interested in a specific school, they should check with its rec or athletics department. Most teams/clubs have websites with contact information.
Are archery teams simply archery clubs, or are they an official college sports like football, baseball, tennis, etc.?
DD: It depends on the institution. Columbia University has a varsity team for women, and a co-ed club.
LG: Most are clubs, but some schools consider archery a varsity sport. It’s not an NCAA sport because no schools at that level have archery. A&M had a women’s varsity program in the early 2000s, but our athletic department eliminated it in 2005 when there wasn’t growth at the NCAA level. The NCAA has dropped archery as an emerging sport.
AP: It depends on the university. Some schools have full varsity programs, but most are student-run club sports.
What are your archery team’s greatest challenges?
DD: Northeast weather, and balancing athletics and academics.
LG: Expenses are always a big challenge since we raise most of our own money for team travel, equipment and scholarships.
AP: One of our greatest challenges is funding. The team does an outstanding job of fundraising throughout the year, so costs to individual students are minimal.
FT: Every year we aim to win the national championship, have as many all-Americans, have as many national champions, and send as many to international competitions as possible.
Who are your school’s top alumni archers?
DD: The two standouts are Stephanie Miller (class of 2007) and Sarah Chai (class of 2012).
AP: Olympic medalist Jacob Wukie, who graduated from JMU in 2009.
FT: We’re fortunate. A lot of really good shooters want to come here. Women’s recurve team member Jennifer (Nichols) Hardy just finished her career at A&M. Michelle Gilbert and Kayla Debord are two of our top current archers.