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Will Elliott’s Outdoors: Youth archery program finds the target

They shoot an arrow into the air and let it go with much care.

That is the way things start, progress and finish along the archery shooting lanes at Allied Sportsmen’s Club in Marilla most Saturday mornings during a Junior Olympics Archery Development youth shooting program.

The ultimate goal is to help young bow shooters develop the skills needed to compete in the Olympics, but club coordinators take much pride in an ongoing interest in having young people become involved in archery.

“We’re here for their future,” Dale Hoffman said Jan. 23 while beginner-level kids were lining up along the shooting lanes at Allied.

The program started in 1968 at Leo’s Archery Range in Depew and was launched at Allied in 1993. Ken Kling of Lancaster, one of the founding program members, continues to work the weekly Allied shoots and strives to acquire gear for new and needy students in the program.

Bows from the most basic stick-and-string to elaborate target-shooting models are hung on pegs along the shooting line as kids get instruction and set up for shooting. The beginner bow shooters start out mostly at 10-yard targets, with the very young (down to age 5) started at 5-yard distances.

Each week, Dale Hoffman coordinates sign-ins, setups and sees to assorted program needs for the 9 a.m. start on Saturdays at the clubhouse on Clinton Street.

“I’m usually here at 6 to make sure things get started,” Hoffman said.

Competition and gender are not concerns here. The Saturday morning beginners’ line of 12 had six boys and six girls shooting, with many a target showing good groups of arrows in and around the yellow center/bull’s-eye.

The more experienced young shooters come in at 11 a.m. and go till 1 p.m. with shooting practice and helpful coaching tips from experienced shooters and certified instructors.

Often, an experienced shooter such as Caitlyn Roe, 17, of South Buffalo, helps the young/beginners for the first sessions and then shoots with the more advanced archers later. Her dad, Dean Roe, had Caitlyn bow shooting before she reached age five, the age required for youths to enter JOAD programs.

“She is a natural shooter and has a good eye,” dad said of Caitlyn’s skill and shooting ability. She will be going to College Station, Texas, for Olympic tryouts.

Trevor Vacinek, 13, of Freedom shot the 20-yard line while dad, Kelly Vacinek, and Dean Roe helped coach Trevor; Chris Sundburg helped Caitlyn and other adult archers assist young shooters in their stance, aim, release, follow-through and all other shooting development.

Hoffman noted the program follows all USA Archery program rules and that Olympic competition is the ultimate goal of the JOAD program. But as he looked down the line of young shooters that Saturday morning he took pride in seeing the nice numbers that showed that snowy day.

Both Kling and Hoffman stressed the need to have young boys and girls become involved in bow shooting, hunting and archery in general. Hunt interests are encouraged but optional. The main focus is on getting families involved to make each time at the range a fun session.

For example, mom Carolyn Drews arrived early with Jillian, 8, Juliana, 11, and Carson, 12 for their morning stint. Mom Dena Owens of Boston arrived with Nolan Murphy, 7, Lennon Murphy, 8 and Gabe Murphy, 10, for their first JOAD gathering.

Shooting skills for archers has been a longtime Olympic event because it requires the development of focus, concentration and consistent aim. Dean Roe noted, “Archery is actually a martial art.”

Hoffman added that so often kids who become seriously involved in the hand-eye coordination needed to accurately and consistently shoot a bow become progressively more coordinated at their shooting plus an added advancement.

Hoffman nodded at the entire line of young shooters and said, “We’ve seen it happen that bow shooters who work at their shooting tend to do better at school work and get better grades.”

Neither academics, nor hunting interests/skills are stressed in this program, but club members at Allied and all other clubs make every attempt to interest youths in bow shooting and skill development to the best of their abilities so that some day they might build up enough talent to try out for the Olympics and possibly compete at that level.

The JOAD youth shoots are open to all kids ages five and older. The Saturday program at Allied Sportsmen’s Club welcomes newcomers each Saturday year round except on weekends with championship shoots. For complete details about participation, check with Dale Hoffman at 440-1582.