A Rockford program which is just four years old is already setting its sights on the highest levels—and reaching them.
On Northland Drive north of 13 Mile Road, drivers may have noticed a sign for the Rockford Sportsmans Club. Neighbors may hear the report of gun shots as members practice their aim.
What you won’t see driving by or hear is the swish and thunk of arrows hitting the target. Every Saturday morning a group of talented athletes have been honing their skills as members of the Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) program.
Archery has been a Rockford Community Education program for years and is so successful classes are often full the day registration opens. Four years ago local sportsmen, including 1984 Olympic archery athlete Glen Myers, decided to crank up the level of competition by starting JOAD at Rockford Sportsmans Club. Since, the team has earned two national championships and is competing at a world-class level.
“It’s cool. It’s like an unspoken sport,” said Mikaela (last name withheld by request), 16, who shot her way to 13th place in Indoor Nationals.
Mikayla Venoms, 10, and Alice Billin, 15, are two other stars in the program. Both took first place in national competition.
Billin said she has been shooting her recurve bow for four years. “I fell in love with recurve and look at that, I’m a national champion.”
Most of the archers said they practice daily in addition to the Saturday practice with coaches. In winter the practices are from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. In summer they are outdoors from 10 a.m. to noon.
“Our coaches are the best,” said Raija McIntyre, 18. McIntyre is a coach herself and placed eighth in Junior World Trials. She said archery is more than just a sport. “It’s also the friendships we make. We exchange e-mails and see the same people in competition so we keep in touch. They aren’t our competition, they are our friends.”
Marti, mother of two of the girls, said archery is more a mental sport than physical, and the archers often help their competitors. If one has an equipment failure, it is not uncommon for another, competing archer, to offer use of their gear. “We aren’t competing against each other,” said Arn McIntyre, Raija’s father. “They are trying to beat their own last best score.”
It is also a sport that any student can do well with if they are determined to practice and learn. National Champion Mikayla Venoms is a little bit of a girl, a petite winner who proves you don’t have to be biggest to be best. The Rockford athlete took first in the female recurve bowman division at nationals. Archery is also an excellent sport to receive a college scholarship, particularly to Michigan State University, which has a huge archery program.
Of the 52 students in the JOAD program—from all over Kent County—many are taking state titles are adding to a growing reputation. “People are starting to sit up and take notice when they see that Rockford orange show up at a competition,” said coach David Hinkle.
Hinkle said the program supplies equipment to new members and the cost is small for a sport—under $10 per weekly lesson. Eventually parents will want to buy a child their own gear, but a decent setup can be had for around $250. Hinkle said anyone interested in the sport is more than welcome to come watch the arrows fly on Saturday mornings at the club, 11115 Northland Drive. “It is statistically the safest sport. It is safer than bowling,” he noted. Otherwise, watch the news as these shooting stars continue to rise on their way to someday competing on an Olympic level.
“You don’t realize how big it is until you are in it,” said Raija. To find out more, visit the Rockford Sportsmans Club online at Rockfordsportmansclub.com.