By Cory Smith and Mike Taylor
SHERIDAN — There are lessons to be learned from the sport — some might call it art — of archery. Patience, strength, judgment, the ability to find one’s center and home in on it, like an arrow to a bullseye. All these are skills that make not only for a better archer, but a better person.
This is the philosophy behind free archery classes currently being offered to both children and adults at Central Montcalm Community Church in Sheridan. The classes, which are held every Thursday through Feb. 27 — the most recent being Thursday evening — seek to impart archery skills and life lessons in equal measure.
The man who suggested bringing the program to Sheridan, Pat Millard, says the lessons are broken down into three segments, one dealing with the actual release of an arrow from a bow; the other two discussions of the greater meaning of the act.
“The first part deals with life experiences,” Millard said. “It’s about walking in the life of the Lord. In the other parts we actually shoot. We cover tournament shooting, the proper use of a bow and all the nomenclature involved in the sport.”
The classes are held right inside the church at 215 S. Main in Sheridan. Only about a dozen students may participate in each class, due to space limitations at the church. To date, the program has been in existence in Sheridan for about a year, however the program itself — titled Center Shot — has enjoyed nationwide popularity for many years. According to Millard, similar classes are held in schools, churches and public facilities around the country.
“This is for all ages and not just for church members,” Millard said. “We take pretty much anybody, from nine years old to people who come in with a walker or wheelchair.”
Originally, the classes were offered to all ages, but due to the strength required to draw the bow successfully, the youngest participant now must be at least nine years old.
Preparing for the class can be a bit of a job, Millard added, since the event is held in the church’s sanctuary and all the chairs and tables used for Sunday services must be moved prior to each event. A kevlar curtain is then suspended at one end of the church and targets placed before it.
Though the shooting range is only 12 to 15 yards, Millard says it more than enough to give novice archers a feel for the sport. Those who truly enjoy it are encouraged to go the next step and practice at various area ranges, such as the 3-D range at Gold Star Sports in Edmore. Gold Star has been a valuable resource to the program, Millard added, noting the staff there handles much of the repair work on the church’s archery equipment.
Funding for the free program comes from various church fundraisers held throughout the year, such as food sales and the Fall Bazaar.
All equipment for the lessons is provided for free, including Genesis compound bows.
For those who worry there might be too much theology and not enough hands-on archery practice, Millard adds that all 11 steps of archery success — everything from proper stance, hand placement, pre-draw and other factors — are covered in each class.
“When they go home, they can practice their form and stuff,” Millard said.
The classes have proven to be more than mere target practice, however, According to Millard, many families have chosen to participate; fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. The lessons help families become closer, Millard said.
“It gives them a chance to bond,” Millard said. “We’ve seen people leave with a difference in attitude; they have more self confidence. It was something I wasn’t expecting. People are actually getting very involved. It’s more gratifying to see that aspect than anything else. This helps change people’s lives.”
Excited to get their family out of the house after an elongated winter break due to three consecutive snow days, Chad and Tara Doolittle of Sheridan attended Thursday evening’s session with their three children, Brendan, 15, Aubrey, 12 and Angel, 10.
For Tara Doolittle, it was a chance to bring her family together without the use of technology or being stuck at home.
“It’s a family activity, it’s free and it gets us away from electronics and off of the couch,” she said. “We just wanted something fun to do together. It was really enjoyable and we are looking forward to the next time.”
As Angel Doolittle held up her bow, squinted her eyes and took aim at her target, the release of the arrow immediately put a smile on her face.
“I get to use something to hit something,” she said with a laugh. “It was a lot of fun and I wasn’t stuck inside at home.”
For Aubrey Doolittle, shooting a bow was nothing new, but she still managed to learn a few tips from the evening session.
“I learned that there are different styles to shooting a bow,” she said. “I usually have one finger on top and two on the bottom, but I learned that some people shoot with three fingers on the bottom. I don’t ever get to shoot a bow in the winter, so this was a lot of fun.”
And just as important as having fun together as a family is to Tara Doolittle, she was equally glad to see a faith component paired along with the archery session.
“Having something that can help develop faith with our kids, finding a parallel between something that is fun to do while building your faith at the same time, it’s really nice.”
Other instructors taking part in the program include Ray Case, Rick Seely, Brad Throop and Carolyn Todd. For more information on upcoming classes, call Millard at (989) 328-2063 or the church office at (989) 291-0000.