When Jill Purkhiser blew a whistle three times, Seth Lane got out of a chair, selected a bow and stepped up to a line.
Eight meters away was a target with black, blue, red and yellow circles. A different number of points was awarded for shooting arrows into those areas.
More often than not, Lane saw his arrows puncture the yellow circle in the center.
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After three rounds of five shots, the Seymour High School sophomore scored 132 out of 150.
Once the 13 other students in the adaptive physical education class finished their shooting during the Feb. 22 tournament in the school’s auxiliary gymnasium, the top three boys scores and top three girls scores were announced, and each received a medal.
Lane won for the boys, and junior Anne Lenart placed first among the girls, scoring 122.
All of the participants received another type of medal. Plus, Tim Beck with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division and National Archery in the Schools Program presented them with the same medals high school archery students receive at the state tournament.
Lane said spending two weeks learning about archery and practicing during PE was fun.
“I didn’t expect to get a full-on bullseye,” he said, smiling. “I was surprised.”
Lenart said she also liked seeing how close she could shoot the arrows in the center circle. She had practiced a lot at school and home and said she was focused during the tournament.
This is the fourth year of archery at Seymour High School. After that team was established, Purkhiser was asked by teacher Dave Boggs to offer archery in his regular and adaptive PE classes.
Boggs said it’s an important addition because archery is a lifetime skill.
“A lot of them can join the team, if they want to go bow hunting someday, just anything, it turns them on to something else in their life they’ve never ever done before,” he said. “That’s what I like about it.”
Purkhiser said she used to work in special education in Tennessee, and she has coached archery for 11 years, including spending some time in Kentucky before coming to Seymour four years ago.
Combining archery with the special needs students has been a great experience, she said.
“You see that we’re hands-on,” she said of herself and her husband, Jonathan Purkhiser, an assistant coach with the Seymour High School archery team.
“The kids that shot in the tournament are the only ones that I have to control the bow on, and that was my criteria for who got to shoot in the tournament and who doesn’t,” she said. “Some of them have seen it, some of them get it, some of them don’t even know their name, but they can show me three fingers, and they know what three fingers go where.”
Special moments have occurred when Jill has worked with nonverbal students.
One boy who graduated last year couldn’t verbalize words, but when she asked him after an archery session if he wanted to do it again, he made a sound like “Yes.”
“Whether archery was the breakthrough or not, that’s not for me to say, but he showed that,” Jill said.
A girl who competed in the tournament recently mouthed the word “fun” when Jill looked at her and asked if she was having fun.
“I’ve never heard her speak in four years,” Jill said.
Moments like that give her chills, she said.
“That makes my day,” Jill said. “The smiles, the full bear hug that I got from that one, ‘Thank you, Mrs. Jill,’ that’s what it’s all about. … This was their state tournament today in their lives.”
Boggs said it’s also special to him to be involved with the program.
“It brings smiles to our faces to see somebody shoot exceptionally well and just to see how much enjoyment they get from it,” he said.
Beck was happy to make it to Seymour to watch the tournament, too. He said the night before, he received an email about it from Jill. At the time, he was at the Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show.
“I told my crew that’s working up there, I said, ‘You’re on your own this morning. I’m going to Seymour,’” he said, smiling.
It wound up being a worthwhile trip.
“To walk in and see the smile on their face and just see them doing the high-fives and the camaraderie and sportsmanship, just the opportunity to do something, it’s priceless,” Beck said.
Members of the high school archery team assisted with the tournament and also with the PE classes. Some of them have siblings in the adaptive PE class.
“I think they get a kick out of it, too, just seeing them,” Boggs said. “Some of them are very surprised how well they shoot, even in the (regular) PE classes.”
Jill said along with the 14 adaptive PE students, she worked with between 50 and 70 students in each of the regular PE classes.
In Indiana, Beck said more than 480 schools have been trained with the archery program and use it in PE classes.
“From our surveys that our coaches and teachers turn in, it equates out to over 70,000 students shooting archery in school,” he said.
The program is offered to grades 4 through 12. Beck said he has noticed when it comes to archery, older students are willing to work with younger students.
“The grades seem to disappear,” he said. “They are helping them, they are supportive, high-fiving. It has really been unique. I not only do it for the state, but I work the national tournament, too, so I get to travel the country and do it, and to see the sportsmanship and camaraderie, you’ll see a senior high-fiving a sixth-grader. It’s really a neat thing.”
The adaptive PE program also is a great opportunity for students, he said.
“It builds their self-confidence, their self-esteem,” Beck said. “It gives them an opportunity to do something they may never ever get a chance to do, and archery is an extremely safe sport that everybody can enjoy. The other thing about it is they compete against themselves, so they set their own goals, their own achievements. It has provided so many more benefits than just shooting an arrow at a target.”
Lane is among the students who can attest to that.
“It’s just fun to shoot,” he said. “It can be fun to help improve your aim a little bit, and it helps you in your life and also reduces your nerves.”
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Seymour High School adaptive physical education archery tournament
First place: Seth Lane, 132 points
Second place: Peyton O’Donnell, 88 points
Third place: Jerson Pacheco, 87 points
First place: Anne Lenart, 122 points
Second place: Carlee Forbes, 67 points
Third place: Alyssa Underwood, 62 points