AYER -- Some kids who are not into football or basketball,or almost any traditional team sport might still want to participate in high school sports.
For some of those students, archery might provide a new answer to an old dilemma.
That's more or less the way longtime coach Jamie Lamoreaux, of the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School Health Education Department, was thinking when he launched the archery program at the high school this year, assisted by a student's Youth Venture project, a $1,200 grant from the Ayer-Shirley Education Foundation, a contribution of $500 from the Booster Club and a $500 donation from the Ayer Gun & Sportsmen's Club
Most of the seed money was spent on equipment to get started. For example, Lamoreaux said he was able to purchase bows and other items at a good price from a local business that sells sporting goods for fishing and hunting but no longer plans to carry archery gear.
In a showcase presentation to the School Committee earlier this year, Lamoreaux and a few students from his archery classes set up an impromptu target range in the courtyard outside the Ayer-Shirley Middle School Library to demonstrate their skills.
The new program is the result of a shared vision, grants, donations and Megan Conversano's Youth Venture project.
Ironically, Conversano wasn't in the archery program when it launched this year, since practice time conflicted with her chemistry class. She's signed up for next year, though, she said, and occasionally attends practice when she has a free period.
She explained how Youth Venture works. A youth leadership program sponsored by United Way and mentored by adults in the school and community, the process includes making a presentation to a panel, which decides whether to fund the project. Students can work in teams or on their own, as Conversano did.
At first, she had a different entrepreneurial endeavor in mind for her project -- selling birthday cards -- but decided to aim for a start-up archery program at the high school instead.
"Mr. Lamoreaux backed me up," she said.
"A survey showed that students wanted it as an alternative to contact sports," Conversano said. "It's more independent." And a new interest for her. She's on the track, soccer and basketball teams but is very excited about learning to be an archer as well, she said.
It's a different kind of sport, but Lamoreaux brings his signature coaching style to his role as archery instructor, generating enthusiasm and camaraderie among his students while commanding their attention. And he's no stranger to the value of positive publicity.
At the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School gym one recent morning, Lamoreaux conducted an archery class while showing a visitor another impressive demonstration of work in progress. He also rounded students up for a team photo and pitched their fundraising goals.
A section of the room beyond the volleyball net was set up as an indoor archery range, with a row of "bullseye" targets aligned along a far wall, with corresponding shooting positions several yards away.
Several bows rested on the bleachers behind a knot of students gathered around Coach Lamoreux as he iterated the practice routine, including the "whistle system" and verbal commands.
After some quick quizzing, he sent them to line up and prepare to shoot, calling for posture adjustments and re-angled bow positions as they progressed, by the book.
Two whistle blasts indicated "archers to the shooting line," with bows in position and arrows in the "quivers," in this instance standing on the floor between shooting positions.
One whistle blast means "begin shooting!" at which point the archers may take their arrows out of the quivers, aim and fire at targets located in front of them.
Three whistle blasts indicate the coast is clear for archers to "walk forward and get your arrows" out of the targets, or off the floor where they landed. They are real arrows, with pointed metal tips, so this is a key command. It means all archers have stopped shooting and have set their bows down and must wait behind the designated line. Nobody ever shoots while someone else is on the range, retrieving arrows or for any other reason.
Four or more whistle blasts in series is a signal to STOP, or "cease fire" immediately.
On this cue, used only when there is an emergency on the range, all archers must point their arrows at the ground as they ease off the bow, then place arrows back in the quiver.
Knowing these signals by rote and following each one as a no-exceptions rule is a must for all the students in Lamoreaux's archery classes. And they are as important to becoming a skilled archer as learning the nine steps of shooting: Stance, Nock, Set, Pre-draw, Draw, Anchor, Aim, Release and Follow-through. Loosely translated, these nine terms mean, "Ready, aim, fire," but each one is a strict but subtly nuanced lesson in itself.
Then, it's all about practice, practice, practice. And, of course, equipment.
Current Needs, Future Goals
Unlike big-ticket, crowd-pleasing team sports such as, say, football or hockey, archery is a fairly simple, relatively low-cost activity for an individual to pursue. But to teach archery as a class, field a competitive team and ensure its continuation long-term, the instructor needs to expend funds and buy specialized equipment items in some numbers.
Besides bows, arrows, tips, quivers and targets, which need replacement from time to time, as wooden shafts break and an expanding array of arrow-punctures shreds the target material, for example, Lamoreaux has his sights set on buying scopes for each bow to improve the student archers' aim and accuracy. And he has fundraising ideas in the works to reach that goal, hopefully, by spring.
For starters, he said his fledgling archery team would start selling team logo T-shirts once the fundraiser was approved by the school administrators. Purchased for $3 each and sold for $12 each, the $9 per shirt proceeds will go toward buying the scopes, Lamoreaux said. To outfit all the bows in the equipment locker with scopes, they need to make a sufficient profit, he explained, so they must sell at least 60 shirts. If they sell 100, "even better!"
Sketching a vision that may or may not gel in the near future, Lamoreaux and his students spoke of setting up a supervised, semi-public archery range at the school that students, staff and others who are not part of the program can use afterhours, for say, $1 per shot, with proceeds to benefit the program.
Lamoreaux said he would also welcome contributions from area businesses and residents. Messages may be left for him at the high school. Or visit the website for contact information at asrsd.org.