Perfection is the Goal at Junior Olympic Archery Championships

On to photos of the NAA JOAD National Target Championship 2003

By Shawna Hickman Staff Writer
Centennial Citizen Newspaper
2329 W. Main St. Suite 103 Littleton, CO 80120
303-794-1606, ext. 1011
On June 26 when the sun was still at that place in the sky when driving east requires you pull the visor down, about 300 young bravehearts and their parents were setting up camp at Arapahoe County Community Park.
By 10 a.m. territories were established at the park, the younger Bravehearts toward the center with the older teens – boys and girls were segregated down the middle – on the wings.
“Especially the older boys, they don’t need the girls around while they are shooting, with their hormones raging,” said dad Kurt Christensen.
The young bravehearts, or archers, were all part of the 22nd annual JOAD (Junior Olympics Archery Development) outdoor national championships. By Sunday, June 29, at the conclusion of the tournament new champions were crowned in several divisions divided by both age and level.
On Thursday morning George Frangos and his daughter/student Mary Frangos were busy taking practice shots at the targets to fine tune Mary’s bow at altitude. Even the slightest imperfection such as a squint looking into the sun (Mary is a left-hander and is one of the few lucky enough to look away from the sun in morning competition), or a sight a hair off can be costly.
“A little imperfection in your release your anchor (stance) and it will make a huge difference,” George said. “Sometimes something little can happen and she won’t even know. It’s like a race car. You’re constantly doing stuff to keep it working, to keep it from coming loose or something.”
From Glendale, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, the two along with the rest of the family including Mary’s mom, sister, brother, their Pomeranian and two hermit crabs, were thrilled to be shooting in what they considered cool weather, 85 degrees.
Encouraged by her father who is also an archer, Mary started shooting when she was 11. She promptly won the national title that year followed by another title last year that earned her a trip to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
“He brang home a Wal-Mart bow one day and he said, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this?’ and I did,” she said. “It just kinda came natural to me.”
Two years after her debut in the sport, Mary holds more than 20 national records, many of which her dad is proud to point out were made with a cheap $150 bow. Since she began she now has some of the best equipment available costing between $1,000 and $2,000 for a bow and about $200 for a dozen arrows.
Despite the cost, which with travel to several tournaments each year can add up, archers who hope to land a college scholarship someday are restricted from accepting money from sponsorships, George said.
However, archers can accept equipment.
Steve Ross, who traveled from Nevada City, Calif with his two sons, said the cost of the sport is significant but he worth it. Luckily, he said, he can pass down bows from his older to his younger son. As an archer himself, practice has become a family outing for father and sons to do together.
“I can’t imagine a better family sport,” he said.
Ross’ youngest son Gabriel, 6, was one of the youngest competitors at the tournament. Coming into his first competitive experience was a little nerve wracking, his parents said, but by Friday, so far so good. Gabriel started shooting when he was 4, barely taller than the bow. Sitting in the tent waiting to practice, he was calm about competing.
“The only thing I really like about (archery) is the shooting,” he said. “He was a little worried he might be teased,” said his dad. “But so far everyone is treating him really well.”
“He’s got a lot of confidence out there so I think he’ll be OK,” said his mom, Mary. Steve, along with George Frangos are two of the advocates of continuing in archery for a lifetime. Steve still competes, while George has turned his attention to his children – his younger daughter and son compete as well. George noted that archery isn’t like other sports that wear your body down; in fact, a 56-year-old woman was on the Olympic archery team in the last Olympics.
“This is truly the sport of a lifetime,” he said. “It’s not like gymnastics where when you’re 16 you’re old. You can do this forever.”
Mary competes in the recurve division, which uses a long bow. There is also a compound division for compound bows, which are sophisticated machines featuring pulleys, a level, large scope and trigger release. Recurve competitors, whose division is allowed in the Olympics, are purists and consider the compound division lower on the archery food chain. George said he doesn’t see compound bows ever being allowed in the Olympics because the athletes rely so heavily on the equipment.
Recurve competitors, on the other hand, rely on themselves. However, those in the compound division hold out their hope their part of the sport will make it into the Olympics.
George Dennison, 13, said he sees the value of both.
“I think if they each have their separate category (in the Olympics), then why not,” the Castle Rock resident said.
In both divisions, rules are strict. Shooting takes place from a white line, all at once designated by a whistle blowing. Large traffic lights stand on the field changing from green to yellow to red depending on how much time is left in that round. In each round two archers at a time line up at the white, chalk line, take aim, and then shoot their three arrows. Then, two more shoot.
After each pair has taken a turn twice, and each archer has exhausted six arrows, music pours out from the PA system and the kids walk to the target to score. All four kids must agree on the score for each arrow; if an arrow is called into question judges’ have the final say.
“There’s no room for subjectivity at all,” George Frangos said.
Attire is also strict. Kids must wear either navy blue or white pants, shorts or a skirt with a T-shirt or sleeveless shirt with at least 3-inch straps. Attire also includes modern armor: a chest protector, finger protectors, arm protector and arrow pouches swinging from their belts. (The serious archers in the bunch will proudly show off their tan lines around the arm protector.)
The strictness both attracts and yields kids who are well behaved. Those who don’t follow the rules won’t last in the sport, George Frangos said.
“You can’t not be well-behaved in this sport,” he said. “It’s not like in basketball, the jock mentality. There’s none of that here. There’s no room for that.”
A group of local archers — Nathan Meister of Littleton, George Dennison of Castle Rock and Kevin Christensen of Littleton, who train at Bear Creek Archery in Englewood — were enjoying time between rounds on Friday. After shooting in strict silence, they came back to their chairs in the shade, rubbed lucky charms and joked. “We all have lucky charms,” said Nathan Meister, who attends Grant Ranch Middle School. “I’m a little superstitious, but not really. It’s mostly just for fun and we try to take each other’s charms.” The joking is what keeps them relaxed when the competition could be intense, Meister said wearing his red visor upside down.
“We usually try to keep it pretty laid back,” he said. “Once you get all serious it gets all messed up.”
While some of the boys were focused on getting a new high score or improving on a national ranking, Christensen was looking to hook up with friends he’d met at other tournaments while Dennison said he was just hoping to improve on the last tournament.
“Last time I managed to place dead last,” Dennison said.
Perfection is the goal in archery. Each arrow has a potential of earning an archer 10 points, 1,440 points in all over the two days of tournament shooting. To Dennison, 28 or 29 points for three arrows is what he considers “pretty good.” After six arrows Mary Frangos had 52 points.
“That’s horrible,” she said. To Dennison, and fellow competitor Colin Winter from Grass Valley, Calif., archery has been a godsend. The two had tried nearly every sport before they latched onto archery and experienced a wide variety of failures from tennis to karate and swimming. “If it’s not archery I’m bad at it,” Winter said. “Yeah, if it’s a sport I’m bad at it unless it’s archery,” Dennison said. “You have to stay still instead of moving around and you have to focus.” That focus is what sets the good apart from the mediocre in many cases. Focus leads to consistency, George Frangos said, and consistency is what matters.
“This sport is about consistency,” he said. “Anyone can get three good arrows in there, but you have to keep it up over time.” Unlike some sports, kids competing last week in the national tournament had to do nothing else than register and show up. There are no qualifying competitions, however kids who placed well in this tournament as well as three other national tournaments throughout the year (senior national outdoor and indoor, and junior national indoor) will earn a national ranking that may earn them a spot on the national team or a college scholarship.
To George, the lack of qualifying tournaments is what he really likes. At each tournament his daughter, Mary, has a chance to show off her best stuff among whoever chooses to show up.
“That’s the beauty of individual sports,” he said. “How do you get on the Olympic softball team? In an individual sport you just show up, register and if you’re good, you’re good. You don’t have to wait to be discovered.”
During the tournament names of the top scorers in each division were placed on a white board, then rotated after each six arrows. Parents, siblings, friends, coaches and archers themselves kept their attention on the board to see where they ranked.
“This board plays more mind games on them than anything,” George Frangos said. “They all want to get their name up there. The girls who aren’t up there right now are probably feeling pretty bad and giving up.”
Mary Frangos, although disappointed with her score after six arrows, relished in the fact that a competitor had just “thrown four 5s.”
“She threw four 5s?” her dad asked.
“Yeah.”
“Well, see, she probably saw she was at the top and got cocky,” he said. “It’s about consistency. My daughter is a slow starter, then keeps getting better and better.”
For both Mary, 13, and George the balance between being a father and daughter and coach and student can be tricky.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s getting tougher. It’s the age. Being a dad and a coach is kinda tough. If it was anyone else, she’d think twice before talking back.”
For Mary the hard part to balance is not how she treats her dad, but deciding which hats they are wearing.
“It’s hard because you don’t know what he’s being at different times,” she said. “Usually when we’re not shooting he’s mostly dad, but sometimes he brings in archery.”
During practice when Mary was having trouble getting her arrows in the center, she approached her dad with anxiety. “Daddy, do I put (the scope) on the low one or the high one? I kinda forgot how to set it.” “Put it on the low one,” George answered.
“Remember, with the altitude the arrows will fly faster because the air is thinner.” Mary sighed with the attitude only a 13-year-old can muster and before walking off with an air of frustration said, “But then why are they low?”
“See, if I wasn’t her dad, if I was any other coach she’d never do that.”
The top archers, like in other sports, spend hours into the double digits each week practicing and extra time on conditioning and weight training. But after all the practice and preparation, it all comes back to enjoyment for all of the archers. After finding the sport, each in his or her own way, they keep coming back.
“I really can’t say (what I like),” Dennison said. “It just feels good, just being out here and shooting.”


This story is copyright 2003 by Shawna Hickman, Centennial Citizen.  All Rights Reserved. 
Contact her HERE for permission to re-use or reprint this story.

Back to documents page   Home Page  On to tournament photos