Portage Archery Team values consistency, earns honors at tournaments
The Portage Archery Team assembled a firing line during practice at John Muir Elementary School Wednesday night, ace shooters and beginners alike standing back to back, disciplined and focused.
In unison, the local shooters nocked their arrows, raised their bows and took a deep breath.
Not one arrow let fly before the all clear was given.
Arrows rained onto their respective targets on command, and each archer drew their next arrows at their own leisure, until their five were spent. Then each shooter waited until every other had fired to retrieve their arrows from the targets.
Senior Coach Dan Reilly, who has been coaching the team for around eight years, said the sport isn’t physically challenging, but requires a lot of mental focus and consistency to perform well.
About 100 kids participate on the team every year, and the program has been going strong for 12 years. And all ages are welcome, with team members ranging from ages 7 to 19.
Reilly first became involved with the team because his owns kids were interested and also because his family has a history of hunting and bow fishing.
Archery is by no means a male-dominated sport, Reilly said. One of the Portage girls broke the record score at a state tournament in either 2015 or 2016, and among the top four shooters at the high school level March 9 were girls.
One of the Portage team’s top shooters, Lily Coddington, 15, decided to join after watching her great-aunt help coach the other archers. Her natural interest in the sport comes in part from growing up on a farm with a family of hunters.
“I love shooting,” Coddington said. “I’m not in it to get attention, I’m in it because I love doing it.”
At a home tournament on March 9, she shot a 283 − her personal best score yet.
And she feels she’s come a long way since she started with the team.
“I’m proud of myself when I beat an old score,” Coddington said.
The objective isn’t simply to win, Reilly said. It’s really about exposing as many archers as possible to the sport. Individual successes are viewed as team successes, in a sport that’s both competitive and dependent on mutual respect.
“Most of the archers that come are coming for the experience,” Reilly said.
The team’s coaches are also proud of their other top shooter, Dillin Crawley, 19, scored 285 points at the most recent March 9 tournament in Portage. And during practice a couple weeks before that, he shot a perfect score of 300.
How did it feel to get that perfect score?
“Embarrassing,” Crawley said, recalling the moment he had to stand in front of an entire gymnasium full of people, red-faced and hiding a humble smile. “I was blushing a lot.”
His trick is keeping both eyes open while shooting, by merging two different fields of vision into one.
But he wasn’t always that good, he said. It’s taken many years of practice to hone his skills after a rough start.
He joined the team when he was in fourth grade, just because. It sounded interesting, and his swimming coach, Julie, would also end up teaching him how to shoot and positively reinforcing him to stick with it over the years.
Reilly said many of the team’s archers are involved in other sports, but archery isn’t like some sports where players can essentially buy a victory by using better equipment.
“That’s not the case here,” Reilly said, noting that every archer is given five arrows per round, and they all use the same model of bow. “Money doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s talent that these kids excel on.”
The only requirement is for team members to maintain good grades in school, as the coaches value accuracy both in the classroom and on the firing line.
It costs all members $65 to join the Portage team, and the registration fees help pay for travel and arrow maintenance. Arrows are $5 apiece.
Fundraising efforts also play a big role, and the annual Archery for Life event helps bring in $5,000 to $6,000 to help pay to send the team to the state tournaments and National Championships in Kentucky or other states.
One of the team’s younger members, Jacquelyn Jamison, 11, joined this season after watching her brother Jeremiah participate the last four years. She’s now looking forward to attending a state tournament together.
“I felt brave enough to do it this year,” she said.
Her aim has steadily been improving, her coaches acknowledged. Her best score yet is an eyebrow-raising 182.
“I guess practice makes perfect,” Jamison said.
Head coach Terry Berndt is proud of the kids, and he noted enthusiasm across the board.
The archers want to be there, and their performance shows, he said.
This year’s Wisconsin state archery tournament will be held March 29-30 at Woodside Ranch Resort & Conference Center in the Wisconsin Dells.
Anyone who wants to get involved with the team in the future can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.