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Pioneer Sportsmen emerges as archery authority in state and region

Last modified: 5/1/2015 5:20:56 PM
Frank Schackart’s Pioneer Sportsmen archery club won five East regional medals at the National Indoor Championships this year. The way the coach described it, you’d think it happens every year.

“I really hate to say this,” Schackart said, “but this year … I really wasn’t surprised.”

That wasn’t hubris or arrogance; Schackart had seen what the team could do after it brought home four medals at the championships the previous year. But nine medals in two years would be an excuse for any small swelling of pride. Pioneer Sportsmen’s archery club is still in its relative infancy, and it’s already turning into one of the premier archery programs in New England.

“We have a very structured plan,” said Schackart, a Londonderry resident. “It’s our philosophy that these kids, these young archers, respond to an organized, structured, challenging plan, and they, quite frankly, rise to the occasion.”

The Dunbarton-based team had four archers win medals at the competition in Fiskdale, Mass., in February (11 locations make up the East, West, North and South regions, and the results are then assembled together to determine national champions). Zach Dutton, a 13-year-old from Weare, won a pair of golds in the Male Cub Recurve category in both the JOAD (junior class) and national competitions. Manchester’s Ethan Merrill, 14, took gold in the Male Cadet Compound class, Christy Schackart (Frank’s wife), 43, won gold in Female Barebow, and Bow’s Abby Nappen, 13, took bronze in the Female Cub Compound group.

Not a bad haul, particularly for a club that was started only two years ago – and with a fair amount of serendipity involved. Frank Schackart and co-coach Peter Jukoski were approached by the long-standing Pioneer Sportsmen Club in the summer of 2013 to start up an archery program, but were already tied to Archery in Motion, a club based in Hooksett.

They approached AIM about starting a tournament team, and when they were turned down, they agreed to begin Pioneer’s program on the condition of being able to start a tournament team. Pioneer agreed, and Schackart went to work.

“They were like ‘Yeah, do whatever you want to do. Go ahead,’ ” he said. “We started the teams and haven’t looked back.”

The archery club began that November – and with three months to go until the nationals, there was already a goal.

“When we went last year, we were in kind of a rush and we were kind of in a panic because we only had a short amount of time to get our plans together and get the kids together,” Schackart said. “We were only meeting on Wednesdays, so we would meet Wednesday from 6-8 (p.m.) and do all of our training. We did that for 14 weeks leading up to nationals.”

Even with little time to prepare, Pioneer Sportsmen was ready by the time the tournament began. Merrill (bronze) and Christy Schackart (silver) earned medals for the Fiskdale competition, while Hannah Smith won gold in addition to a JOAD bronze.

It was the first tangible success for the team, and it told Frank Schackart that his club had started to hit its stride even earlier than anticipated.

“I was absolutely surprised. I completely did not expect any of that,” he said. “I was 100-percent surprised we took any medals for the Eastern region.”

Heading back

Pioneer Sportsmen returned to the national competition this winter armed with a year of training and a greater idea of what to expect. Schackart knew he had skilled archers, so there wasn’t much surprise when Christy Schackart and Merrill snagged their golds.

Nonetheless, a few finishes caught the coach off guard. Dutton, last place in his category the year before, rose to take first this time by a 99-point margin, greater than the gap between second and fifth. The score suggested Dutton was poised every step of the way; he was anything but.

“I was nervous because I wasn’t sure how many people were in my division and how hard the division was going to be,” he said. “(Coaches said) not to get nervous because it’s the same thing I’ve been doing every day. … I was just thinking about how many times I shot, and that it wasn’t any different than practice.”

“He had an absolutely tremendous improvement from the nationals last year,” Schackart said. “I was pretty confident he was going to at least place. But obviously I was quite pleased when he took the gold.”

The other surprise was Nappen, who was also last in 2014 and out of position for a medal going into the final day, but rallied with a strong final shoot to take the bronze.

“She had a tremendous amount of pressure,” Schackart said, “and she was able to pull it off.”

Nappen had no idea what she had done – not until she heard her name at the awards ceremony.

“I was telling my mom, ‘I really don’t want to stay for the awards, I’m not going to win anything. I’d rather just go home, keep my pride and stuff,’ ” said Nappen, whose mother, Bev, had been told Abby was in position for the medal and convinced her she should stay.

“All of a sudden my name got called for the bronze,” Nappen said, “and let’s just say the smile never went away from my face after hearing that news.”

A sport for everyone

Nine medals in two years can do wonders for a program. Pioneer has had enough new archers since its first indoor nationals appearance to start up a second team, one filled with young archers who hone their skills and eventually move up to the original tournament team.

“It’s almost … our farm team, our junior varsity team,” Schackart said.

The popularity boon has mirrored the one archery has seen on the national level, which Schackart attributed to the recent Summer Olympics. And Hollywood.

“One (reason) which can’t be denied, is the whole thing with the Hunger Games,” he said. “The movies, and Brave and all of that just created this surge of interest in archery, and along with that was the Summer Olympics in 2012. … Those two things have kind of created a fertile bed for the interest in archery to increase.”

The numbers certainly indicate it. Schackart said the number of archers at the indoor championships rose from 400-500 to more than 700, and that the outdoor championships are expecting the amount of competitors to go up from 700+ last year to more than 900 this summer.

Watching Jennifer Lawrence wield a bow and arrow can get prospective archers to the range, but Schackart said it’s the inclusivity and approachability of the sport that keeps them there.

“It’s a sport that pretty much anyone can do. You don’t have to have these super gifted characteristics in order to be successful,” he said. “The learning curve isn’t super steep to start seeing success.”

The extra effort

With rising numbers of archers comes a wider spectrum for their interests and dedication to fall into. Some will just be looking for a hobby. Others will be looking for a passion. Pioneer seeks the latter.

“We only meet once a week, so we’ve got to encourage them and convince them that if you want higher-level scores, you need to be shooting two, three, four times per week, every week,” Schackart said. “And some of them do it, and some of them don’t.”

The ones getting the medals do. Dutton, for instance, said he shoots outside six days a week, giving himself one day a week for rest.

“I’ve been doing better because I shoot almost every day,” he said. “I’ve just been getting better the more I practice.”

Nappen has only been shooting for two years, but attributed her improving strength and endurance to an estimated eight to 12 hours of shooting outside in her yard.

“You really have to put in the time,” she said. “You’ve just got to show you’re not going to give up on it, because it’s something you do need patience with.”

The work ethic has helped the club compete with – and beat – more experienced, established teams. Before the indoor championships this year, Pioneer competed in three Massachusetts tournaments, earning 15 medals in each.

“We had the biggest medal haul of any club that went down there, and some of these clubs have been in business for way, way, way longer than us,” Schackart said. “I think we have a lot of enthusiasm with the club.”

The archers are enthusiastic about their own success, but knowing the person shooting across from you is chasing big ambitions, as well, promotes camaraderie among the members.

“We’re all individuals, the sport is something we do individually,” Nappen said. “But we’re all a team and we help each other out. If a compound shooter needs help on something, another compound shooter sometimes helps. We’re always there for that person.

“Everything put together makes it a really good club to be a part of.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)


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