ARMSTRONG – Coach Jerry Kuchenbrod gets a kick out of watching his team members' reactions when he takes them to compete in the Chicago area.
"You ought to see their faces," Kuchenbrod said. "It's a real culture shock to go from small-school Armstrong to big-school Chicago."
But when it comes to competing, it doesn't matter how big or small a school you come from, or what your ethnic background, age or gender is, he said. Each competitor stands on his or her own, relying on the work he or she has put into practicing, contributing individual talents to the team. That's how archery works, he said.
"At our school, there's a big emphasis on basketball and volleyball, but we're trying to get kids involved in another sport where almost any kid can participate and do well," said Kuchenbrod, who is a construction site superintendent when not coaching.
Becky Hillman is proud of her son's progress in the sport.
"I can see he's matured because the sport is very disciplined," Hillman said of her son, Eddie, 16, a junior. "The archers learn patience and sportsmanship as well. I've seen a change in him. He's even improved 40 points over last year's scores."
Recently, the Armstrong-Ellis Grade School (junior high level) and Armstrong High archery team traveled to Chicago to compete in the third Chicago Military Academy Archery Tournament.
The host team might have taken first place in the overall competition, but Armstrong's junior high team took second, and its high school team rounded out the top three among six participating schools.
In divisional competition, the Armstrong-Ellis archers took first place in the junior high division and the high school team took second place.
Brylee Crozier and Tayla Van Ostrand for the junior high division and Ryan Franzen, Jeff Buckley, Hunter Abbott and Eddie Hillman in the high school division received medallions for placing in the top 10 shooters overall. Hunter and Eddie also received the female and male division overall top shooter awards, each scoring 281 of 300 possible points.
Archery, as a club sport, is supported by the school district, but some expenses are defrayed by club fundraising, including the upcoming Cupid Classic. The invitational is expected to draw 10 teams in its second year. It will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the high school, 30474 Smith St.
Kuchenbrod took over coaching duties four years ago when the archery program began on the junior high level. His duties broadened when a high school team started two years ago.
"We've gone from four high school participants to 12 this year, so we are overcoming peer pressure about being an archer," he said. "What I would consider our biggest competitor, Athens High School near Springfield, was where we are in numbers four years ago. This year, they had 54 come out."
A team can only have 12 competitors, but the coach didn't cut anyone. Kuchenbrod said he encourages them to come and practice anyway.
He said one of the requirements to be able to compete on a state or national level is for the schools to have a two-week unit in its physical education program.
Money raised at the Cupid Classic will also go toward transportation cost to compete at the national archery competition May 8-9 in Louisville.
"When you have a small school like ours and a number of others in the state, the same athletes seem to take the team positions," Kuchenbrod said. "Archery is a sport that gives the other kids something to do."
Hillman also likes the sport because it combines individual responsibility with being on a team.
"You are basically competing against yourself, but there are team awards as well," she said. "It's also a sport where anybody can compete."