Comets taking aim at another state championship
Cheyenne Phillips was used to shooting a different kind of bow.
School bows don’t have sights or releases. Her fifth grade self watched her peers shoot single round 30s and 35s (out of a possible 50 points). Phillips gave it a go, and shot a 46. Then she was hooked.
Judging by the 95 high school, middle school, and elementary school students taking part in the Cardinal Archery program, Phillips (now a junior at Cardinal High School) isn’t the only one hooked. This is the seventh year of archery at Cardinal, and this season the high school archers have their sights set on the school’s fourth state championship.
After winning three state titles in a row, the Comets failed to reach their goal of four in a row last season.
“You get a little complacent at times,” said head coach Jeff Conger. “It’s hard to hold on to success like that forever. Kids graduate, kids move on and kids get jobs. It’s a struggle to maintain it.”
Conger is in his second year of head coaching, but has been a part of the program for six years. There are nine bow certified coaches that help with the program, and four or five of them are present at every practice. Coaches aren’t paid and are there on a volunteer basis only. The school was hesitant to begin the program at first, but the interest archery generated in the student body could not be ignored.
“The school in the beginning was very hesitant, because, well obviously, we’re shooting arrows,” Conger said. “But now they’re backing us fully and they give us everything we need.”
There are currently 200 schools in Iowa participating in The National Archery in the Schools Program according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Many of these schools just have archery as a club and don’t compete. Conger estimates 54 schools in Iowa compete at tournaments, and more than 1,300 students have shot at tournaments so far this season. This number will increase because six schools that compete have yet to shoot at a meet.
Competitions have very strict rules in order to keep everyone safe. Students don’t retrieve arrows or move off the shooting line without permission.
Archery provides Cardinal students with an opportunity to participate in an activity that’s out of the norm.
“This gives them another avenue and a chance to be on a team that does something a little bit different,” Conger said. “I would say that most of the kids just want to be part of a team. They also know we’ve been successful, and they want to be part of that.”
The crowning year for Cardinal was 2010, when the high school, middle school and elementary school each won state. This prompted coaches to follow through on a promise they had made to their archers. Coaches shaved off facial hair or got crazy haircuts. Conger went the funkier route, and left Des Moines that day with pink and blue hair.
Phillips and senior Conner McElderry will both play an important role in Cardinal’s success this season. Just like Phillips, McElderry is hooked on the sport that is by far the most popular club activity at Cardinal High School. Many of the students don’t hunt in their free time either. Archery has become an activity all of its own, with students continually embracing it.
Like any athletes, archers try to keep things simple and block out distractions. Only archers need to focus on an 80-centimeter wide target, and get as close to 300 points, which is the maximum score for archery, as possible.
McElderry prefers baseball, but archery provided something he can do year around.
“The thing about this is if I get bored, I can always go outside and find a hay bale to shoot,” McElderry said.