Parks program hits the mark with young archers

Liam Henry, 11, eyes his arrow as he releases it from his bowstring. Liam is a member of South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District’s archery classes and a student at South Whidbey Elementary School.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Liam Henry, 11, eyes his arrow as he releases it from his bowstring. Liam is a member of South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District’s archery classes and a student at South Whidbey Elementary School.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Glen Harris warned the young archer as she drew back her arrow.

“Sophia, you’re flirting with danger again,” he said.

At the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District office on Maxwelton Road, four targets stand four feet high. Liam Henry, Orion Winter, Clay O’Brien and Sophia Falso are 30 feet away from the targets.

It’s part of Harris’ archery program through the parks district, and it’s the fun part.

It’s almost as fun, or as humorous, to these four 10- and 11-year-olds as searching for an errant arrow in the shrubs and trees behind the targets. Then it’s back to the line to grab their bows.

“Firing positions,” Harris called out.

The students move to the firing line.

“Firing lines clear,” Harris said. “Commence firing.”

Arrows zip and whip through the air toward the target board. Some of the arrows hit the targets, others hit the wooden board behind it. Other arrows sail into the woods from whence they came five minutes earlier.

There is no frustration in Harris’ voice as the arrows miss. He walks over to the students and tells them they weren’t aiming at the target, or they leaned too far back. He tells Sophia to focus on her breathing, relax, find her target, aim and release.

Harris has been a professional archery coach for more than 27 years and currently holds the highest level earned degree awarded to archery coaches by USA Archery. He was a head coach for World Archery and Paralympic teams, and is a coach for Emerald City Archery Academy.

The class is so engaging and entertaining to Liam, Orion, Clay and Sophia that they are all repeat students who have taken this class at least twice before.

“It was fun, and they’re dangerous,” Liam said of his attraction to bows and arrows.

A common theme among the three boys in the class was their fascination with medieval weaponry. The most excited they get is when their arrows cluster or hit a similar quadrant of the circular target. None of them hit the bullseye.

Clay had a more practical, if not still fanciful, use for archery — he wanted to be a better hunter, even though he’s never been hunting.

“He’s our hunter,” Harris said of Clay. “He’s a killer.”

Sophia, the only girl in the course, said she gets along just fine with the boys, most days.

“It depends on what mood they’re in,” she said. “I’m always the only girl in the group.”

The excitement of archery and Harris’ coaching brought Sophia back to the class for a third time.

“It looked interesting,” she said. “Glen was a good coach and I had fun doing it.”

The class has 10 students in it during most sessions, Harris said. Archery provides students with an outlet from the structure of school, even if there are clear rules to Harris’ archery class. For example, arrows are not toys, and are not pointed at people or anything other than the targets, and are shot only on Harris’ command.

The archery class is in its sixth year in the South Whidbey parks district. Harris and the parks district wrote a grant application to Easton Sports Development Program and received a $5,000 grant to purchase the bows, strings, arrows, a case/stand for the bows, quivers and targets.

Harris would like to expand it to a yearlong activity, but needs to find a suitable indoor facility. Until then, the class is offered in the spring, summer and into the fall. Classes are on Mondays and Thursdays and the fee is $60.

The next session begins Aug. 8 and runs through Sept. 1. Students in fourth and fifth grades begin at 3:45 and end at 4:45 p.m.

After that, the next available session for fourth- and fifth-graders begins Sep. 12 and goes through Oct. 6.

Students in sixth to eighth grade begin the classes at 2:45 and end at 3:45 p.m. The next available class starts Aug. 8 to Sep. 1, or Sep. 12 to Oct. 6.


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