For the second year in a row, the East Lansing High School Archery team will attend the archery nationals, competing against dozens of other teams from all around the country. The entire high school team has qualified and every member will have the chance to attend.
Eastern Nationals will be held in Louisville, Kentucky, from May 11-13 and is run by the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). The ELHS team has already competed at states on March 17 at the Lansing Center, with many students making personal records.
“[Competing at nationals] definitely adds to the nerves because it’s the biggest place you’ll ever shoot,” Elijah Layne, a senior on the team, said. “I think one year we were there and it set the world record for the most archers in a straight line all shooting at once. So it’s kind of intense.”
The high school group has only become large enough to qualify for nationals as an entire team over the past couple years. During the pandemic, only a handful of high school students competed. But the team now has 25 members, eight of whom are seniors.
“Really the hardest part is just having enough people for a team there,” Alex Paddock, a sophomore on the team, said. “There are a lot of rules about how many people you need to have to count as a team and the team is really the easiest way to get to nationals rather than individually.”
For the eight seniors on the team, nationals will be their last time competing. Senior Layne started archery years ago – in fifth grade when coach Casey Bain created a team for elementary schoolers while teaching gym at Marble Elementary School. When he entered sixth grade, there was no middle school team so he didn’t return to the program until eighth grade. From there, he saw the high school team shrink during the pandemic and then grow into the large program it is today.
“It’s definitely kind of sad [graduating] because I’ve been doing it for so long,” Layne said. “And it’s been one of my favorite things during high school.”
Some of the other seniors on the team joined last year as juniors, like Kate McAndrews and Nevin Criswell-Grinage. They found the team to be welcoming and the competition to be flexible in a way that created a unique environment.
“Wherever you start, you can just improve from there and it doesn’t affect the entire team if you’re not doing as great to start off with,” McAndrews said. ”And then you are able to grow. You do work together as a team and like you can score as a team. That’s how we’re able to go to nationals, because our score as a team was good enough.”
McAndrews also found the nationals competition last year to be a good opportunity to bond with her team and explore a new place.
“I have a giant van so like half the team rode in my van all the way down to Kentucky,” McAndrews said. “And like walking into such a big place, like it’s bigger than any other competition that we go to, it was really intimidating. I was definitely nervous and everything but it was just such a cool experience to shoot on a line with hundreds of other students.”
Competitions are more focused on individual high scores than direct competition with other archers, building a different culture than the typical rivalry of most high school sports. Nationals brings in archers from all over the Eastern U.S., giving them the chance to meet new people.
“The whole community comes together,” Criswell-Grinage said. “I think I met someone [at nationals last year] from Louisiana and Missouri, and we were just talking and having fun and there was no real pressure.”
And most any member of the team credits the success of the program to excellent coaching. Bain and her assistant-coach Jim Diller have been taking on the coaching since the beginning of the team.
“I mean she [Bain] is really passionate and really committed to it,” Paddock said. “She spends a lot of her time on it even after she’s retired [from teaching] she still coaches.”
Passionate and dedicated coaching is one of the many elements of archery that will be missed by the seniors with one month of the season left as nationals approach.
“I’ll miss all my friends but we might be able to stay in touch,” Criswell-Gringe said. “But the coaches, they really put the heart into it.”
May 10, 9 a.m.: This story has been corrected to reflect the proper spelling of the names of coach Casey Bain and senior Elijah Layne.