Brandeis archery team, club see surge in members

Hollywood films, London Olympics, bring new life to old sport

Photo/Mike Lovett

Dustin Arron '14

When Dustin Aaron ‘14 arrived on campus his freshman year, he went to check out the archery team, which at the time consisted of four members. Now, just two years later, the team is 14 members strong, and there is a very active club, where up to 30 members can be found shooting on any given day.

During this year’s Club Fair, more than 200 students signed up to learn more about this sport that is resurgent across the nation.

Aaron and many others say the spike in interest can be attributed to box office hits like “The Avengers,” “Brave,” and “The Hunger Games.” He also credits the popularity to people watching archery in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“I think the movies gave the heroine characters powerful symbolic images of the woman with the bow in her hand,” says Aaron. “I can’t tell you how many people, both male and female, have said, ‘I’m going to be Katniss Everdeen from ‘The Hunger Games’ or Hawkeye from ‘The Avengers.’”

While Aaron says he sometimes finds that entertaining, he also feels it can get a bit old. Nevertheless, he’s happy that the movies are bringing people in the door of the Gosman Center, where the archery club practices every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday night from 6 to 8 p.m., and the archery team meets the same days from 8 to 10 pm. Team membership is awarded by invitation only, and members travel around the country competing against other schools.

“I love when people say, ‘I saw archery during the Olympics, it looked really cool and I want to try it out,’” says Aaron, who is now the club’s president.

It really hits home, he says, as the team has been trained to shoot in the same style as the Olympics. Olympics style, Aaron explains, means using a bow that includes two specific elements -- a “sight,” which allows an archer to aim (no cross hairs or magnification, like a rifle, is allowed), and a stabilizer, a long rod that comes off the front of the bow. The stabilizer balances the weight and adds forward inertia to the bow after the shot, so it does not affect the arrow.

“It’s a great hobby and it’s really fun, but it’s also a sport and I take it seriously,” Aaron says.

Prospective members stream in and out of the Gosman Center to check out archery throughout the year, but especially during finals, says Aaron, as it can be a great stress reliever.

A junior majoring in medieval studies and art history, Aaron insists that the tie between his studies and his sport is purely coincidence.

“There happens to be one other medievalist on the team,” Aaron says. “Being a new freshman I had wanted to try everything. Being from Virginia, which is sometimes classified as the south, I had shot a bow before.” But his first real experience with a bow and arrow was on campus.

Aaron says the Brandeis archery team and club were small operations that were barely afloat three years ago.  Both were struggling financially; the team was using old pieces of foam in the gym for target practice. Aaron kept going back because it was fun and the people were interesting. Eventually the coach, E.G. LeBre, asked him if he was interested in competing. Aaron began attending competitions, and that February he attended the nationals.

“It was a big U.S. open nationals that anyone was allowed to attend, so it wasn’t any big feat on my part to be there, but it was still really cool to go to this massive competition with over 200 people,” says Aaron. “That moment gave me a large exposure to this whole archery culture and the sport, seeing it as more than just a hobby.”

Last year the archery club applied to the Brandeis athletic board and finance board for various grants, so members were able to attend most tournaments.

A small grant from the U.S. Collegiate Archery Association helped get them to the regionals at the collegiate level. At the end of the year, four team members went to the big national competition, which was held at James Madison University in Virginia.

“We didn’t do well, but we were proud to have made it there and it served as great motivation to turn the club into something,” says Aaron.

Coach Lebre says he finds it interesting to see the young men and women come to the club who’ve never been involved in the sport, to watch them evolve.

“We had one team member last year who started in September and by May was recognized as one of the best new archers in the country,” says Lebre, who has coached the team since it first formed in 2006.

Mehraj Awal ’14, a biochemistry major, joined the club two years ago and was invited to the team a few months later.

“Besides going to competitions and shooting, I really enjoy a lot of the people there,” says Awal, who is now vice president of the team.

Target distance varies depending upon the venue and the time of year.  For indoor competitions the 40-centimeter target is 18 meters away, with a bulls eye 1.4 inches across. The 10- ring, which garners the most points in the center, is 1.4 inches, then about every inch or so there’s another concentric ring.

In indoor competition, 60 arrows are shot in groups of three, with a total possible score of 600.  The target is 18 meters away.

Outdoors, 72 arrows are shot in groups of six for a possible 720 points. The target is a minimum of 70 meters away.

Aaron says the team has competed up to 90 meters away, which is nearly the length of a football field. The target, he says, is 1.2 meters or 120 centimeters across, so when you’re looking at the target outside, the size of the target center is equivalent to the tip of a ballpoint pen.

“I feel fortunate that we will have the same team members both this year and next,” says LeBre. “As they mature as people and as archers, I think we’ll see a lot more awards coming to Brandeis.”

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