Sunday, July 28, 2002

Quiver with fear

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This week's subject focuses on two very important and neglected components of the Cincinnati sports world: mastodons and archery.

        After doing some extensive research with very reliable sources (Three cheers for the Internet!), I discovered the significance of the elephant-like extinct beast and a simple bow and arrow.

        The following is a chilling account of the near-fall of humankind: Sometime around 20,000 B.C., primitive humans decided that a rigorous schedule of hunting giant mastodons and napping might hinder their advancement into the civilized culture we see today, which clearly hinges on cell phones and Major League pitching contracts.

    If you want to become an skilled archer, there are three standards that can propel you to the height of your game: Practice, practice and more practice.

    Jim Coombe, a 30-year archery enthusiast and coach, picked up the sport after squash-related knee injuries kept him off the playing field. He practices between four and seven days a week to stay sharp for indoor and outdoor competitions.

    While archery doesn't require lap-running or calisthenics, it's still important to stick to a training schedule.

    “The hardest part (of archery) is the mental aspect. You're competing against yourself, which is harder than competing against someone else," Coombe said. “Sometimes, the harder you try, the worse you do."

    Finneytown's Bryant Bays, 16, discovered the sport two years ago. His knack for accuracy became evident while hunting, but his skills continued to evolve in the off-season as a Junior Olympian. He placed ninth nationally in the Cadet Male Compound category of the National Junior Archery Championships at West Chester's Voice of America Park, July 12-14.

    During the summer, he spends at least two days a week honing skills. Although he struggled with other sports, Bays found an unexpected niche among archers.

    “It can get tiring after shooting a couple hundred arrows, and standing in the heat with a lot of other people. But it's fun and anyone can pretty much do it. You don't have to be physically fit or even good at it," Bays said.

    Northern Kentucky resident Rex Fike is a year-round archer who shoots his compound bow in bi-weekly leagues. Indoor archery, 3-D target shooting and hunting became his passions after a 1997 left knee injury ended his softball career.

    Fike's advice for aspiring archers?

    “Practice, practice, practice every day," he said. “Keep in mind that it's a mental game, and that you need to make every shot perfect."

        During a closed-conference meeting between nomads of high intelligence, Erg politely informed Borg that catching mastodons would be much easier if (a) Borg invested in a Tic-Tac, and (b) they abandoned their old hunting method, which was very disturbing and is not fit for print. Let's just say it involved a peashooter, a large net and some very aggressive cat-calling. The nomads' wives, originators of the Speedy Neanderthal food chains, eventually coated the snared creature in batter, dipped it in a deep fryer and produced several tons of Mastodon McNuggets.

        Borg began to understand how a greater mastodon harvest could yield bigger things, namely increased stock value, a better economy and a tailor-made Armani wardrobe. He promptly constructed the world's first civilized weapon, a bow and arrow, and within a century, the mastodons were wiped out.

        My point is, archery is fun for everyone.

        No, really, it is! Well, except for those mastodons. And, I suppose, the many woodland creatures who are hunted in that manner to this very day. But for Summer Adventure No. 8, I decided to find out for myself what this recreational archery business is all about. Tuesday afternoon I traveled to Bethany Archery Inc. on 6559 Cincinnati Dayton Road in Middletown, where anyone can enjoy archery for $5 to $7.

        In a shocking turn of events, I was unable to take a crack at an authentic mastodon. Luckily, I brought along my brother, Patrick, a high school junior, and was somewhat comforted in the notion that - according to the strict rules of sibling rivalry - I could always take a crack at HIM. Also in attendance were Mason residents and archery novices Amy Russell and Julie Schaner.

        Bethany Archery's Liz Coombe had the enormous task of explaining the finer points of the sport. First off, we found out that launching an arrow has absolutely NOTHING TO DO with shooting a gun.

        "Anybody can walk in and shoot a gun. Archery is a bit more detailed," Liz said. "To be good at this you'll need a lot of practice, and you'll need to learn how to relax."

        I envisioned a cup of cocoa and 20 minutes in a spa. Liz's idea of relaxing was slightly different, and instead centered on being neither tense nor shaky while holding a 62-inch recurve bow. The indoor archery range, which includes 12 lanes, positions archers 20 yards from their paper targets.

        The goal of recreational archery is to earn as many points as possible while not accidentally hitting a fellow archer with a stray arrow. The target circles have decreasing point values, from 10 to 1. The bullseye itself is the coveted 10-point ring in the middle, and is roughly the size of a nickel.

Enquirer sports reporter Shannon Russell assumes the "pig's nose" position....
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        You're probably wondering, HOW HARD CAN IT BE TO HIT A NICKEL FROM 20 YARDS AWAY? The answer is elementary. With my levels of athleticism and eyesight, it is simply impossible. But hitting the floor, or the wall, or anything six feet from the target, is a cinch.

        Liz allowed us a practice round to become acclimated with the sport. Holding the bow wasn't overly difficult, as I have witnessed many archery depictions in fine films like "Robin Hood" and "Robin Hood, Men in Tights." We affixed each arrow to the bowstring, under a tiny little knob referred to as a "nock," looked through a tiny adjustable peephole ring called a "sight," pulled the string back, aimed and launched.

        But not before we implemented one other important technique, known technically as The Pig Nose. While we were all grateful NOT to be wearing Spandex or plumes for this exercise, embarrassment was unavoidable when we learned of the aformentioned step. When one pulls one's bowstring back to launching position, one's right hand (if one is right-handed) rests along the jawline. To aim most accurately, the bow string should dig into one's nasal septum and turn one's nose completely skyward.

        Therefore, one should never practice archery on a first date. Archery should most certainly be encouraged with siblings and friends, if only so you can say "HA, HA! YOU HAVE A PIG NOSE!" in a taunting fashion while that sibling is trying seriously to hit a target.

        We decided to hold an impromptu tournament to see who was really king of this sport. The set-up included three rounds apiece and with six arrows a pop. With astute calculations, we found that we could potentially collect 180 points each by hitting the bullseye each time.

...and seems pleased with the results.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        After an Oscar-caliber dramatic performance, I produced EIGHT WHOLE POINTS. Total. I didn't feel too horribly about it thanks to Julie, who joined me in the loser's bracket with six points, and Amy, with 37. Patrick's 42 points landed him in the finals.

        "I didn't feel any pressure. It was just fun," Patrick said nonchalantly about his climb to the championship. "All I did was hit the target once or twice every time."

        The ultimate winner of the tournament was obviously Enquirer photographer Jeff Swinger. No, I'm serious! When Jeff finished taking pictures, he entered the tournament and advanced to the finals, where he collected 58 points, the title and bragging rights for a year.

        In closing, it is very important to remember several things. First (as is evident by my performance) ANYONE can attempt archery. Second, you should always think fondly of Erg and Borg and their contributions to today's society.

        And most importantly, be thankful you are not - and never will be - a mastodon.


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