It’s 6:30 a.m., and there are three sounds bouncing off the walls: the twanging of bows, the thwacking of arrows finding their mark and the chirps of whistles commanding instruction.

Twice a week, before the sun rises over the Seymour skyline, they’re in the high school auxiliary gym.

The archers are disciplined, poised with every shot they take as they hone their craft from 15 feet.

At the beginning of the school year, Seymour High School asked school resource officer Keith Williams to assemble a club archery team.

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Now 29 students from Seymour will compete in the state competition this Saturday at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.

When the school presented Williams the task, he knew the person he needed to reach out to: Jill Purkhiser.

Purkhiser, who moved to Seymour about a year and a half ago with her family, headed an archery team in Louisville, Kentucky, that made it all the way to the world championships.

Williams asked Purkhiser if she was interested in coaching, and she immediately took on the role of head coach.

Purkhiser said she was amazed Seymour hadn’t formed an archery team when Jennings County had one active for almost 12 years. “I thought, ‘Yes, we need to get it going,’” she said. “I’ve been coaching for about 10 years. I started coaching a home school team in Louisville, and we actually ended up going all the way to worlds.”

Kentucky is the lone state in the country that recognizes archery as a sanctioned high school sport, so Purkhiser has taken the role seriously.

When the school announced that they would host an archery team, the turnout was tremendous.

“I really didn’t know how many kids would come out,” Purkhiser said. “The very first practice, we had about 50 kids show up. We only lost a couple when we said it would be a 6:30 a.m. In December. We had a competition to see who took spots on the team. I ended up with about 39 kids to pick from. Next year, I would be surprised if I don’t have 100 come out.”

Teams are allowed to bring 24 archers to compete in tournaments across the state with five alternates.

In team scoring, the top-12 are counted, and at least four of the scorers must be of the opposite sex.

Junior Trinity Valencia had never shot an arrow before joining the team and is now the No. 1 female scorer for Seymour.

“They announced it at the school, and it seemed like something interesting. It’s always something I’ve wanted to do,” Valencia said. “I think I enjoy the focus of it. When you’re shooting, it’s just you and the bow. The competitions are exciting and also nerve-racking. You need to really pull together to do well as a team.”

Seymour has competed across the state throughout the season without funding from the school.

Nearly 2,100 students will compete at the state tournament, which will determine who will compete at the Nationals in Louisville.

To qualify for the state competition, the Seymour team had to shoot a minimum qualifying score.

Seymour shot 3,106 in their qualifier to advance.

“It has been a dream,” Purkhiser said of the season. “The kids have stepped up. They listen and take everything to heart. The kids have been incredible. When I tell them how to change (form), they do it. Their attitude plays a lot into it. They have to have the right attitude to do this. I couldn’t have asked for a better group in the first year.”

Officer Williams said that the club was started to offer a less-traditional sport.

“We’ve had a ton of success, and it’s more than the competition,” Williams said. “A lot of them have accomplished things that they maybe wouldn’t have done. Not ever kid can run, shoot or throw a ball. Any kid can shoot a bow. We want this to be for everybody.”

Freshman Clayton Prater, a hunter, joined the team to improve his shooting skills.

“It’s a pretty good time,” Prater said. “You learn a lot, and it teaches you discipline. I never competed as seriously as I do here. I really like the atmosphere — everyone is pretty serious, but it is fun. I can see myself doing this (for the next three years): it’s what I love doing.”

Purkhiser said she hopes that the archery club will transcend past sport.

“I want them to have confidence,” Purkhiser said. “There weren’t many kids who had shot a bow before they stepped in here. Many didn’t think they could even hit the target. When they hit the target for the first time, you see the smile on their face and sense of accomplishment.

“The teachers have seen more confidence in the classroom. They’re more positive. They have success (with archery), and they understand they can have success in other areas of life.”

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As a club, the Seymour High School Archery team isn’t funded by the school.

The team is funded by donations which go towards bows, targets, bow racks, genesis arrow, arrow curtains and travel costs for competition.

To donate, contact head coach Jill Purkhiser at [email protected].

Checks can also be written to Seymour High School Archery Club and mailed to the high school.


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