COTATI — When it first came into existence in the fall of 2011, the Sonoma State Archery Club practiced in the small field house on campus. The students hung an “arrow net” to absorb the sharp-tipped projectiles, but it wasn’t foolproof. The less experienced archers (which was most of them) would sometimes overshoot the net and plant an arrow in the wall.
Don’t worry, no Seawolves were harmed in the making of this story. And 2½ years later, the club has come a long way. In May, in fact, SSU Archery acquitted itself well at the annual U.S. Intercollegiate Archery National Championships at El Dorado Park in Long Beach — site of the archery events in the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Archery is not recognized by the NCAA as an intercollegiate sport. This is purely a club activity. Because of that distinction, however, Sonoma State wasn’t picking on schools its own size at the championships. The Seawolves were competing against the likes of Cal, Stanford, UCLA and Texas A&M.
And yet they excelled. Seniors Shawn Kelley and Amanda Saiki brought home fourth place in the Recurve Mixed division, and Kelley, senior Zachary Truskolaski, and junior Frank Bae took sixth place in the Recurve Men’s division.
Not bad for the first appearance in any tournament of significance for SSU, a newcomer in the world of archery.
“We borrowed a banner from the admissions office and hung it on our tent,” said Jeffrey Reeder, a professor of Spanish Linguistics, Culture and Translation at Sonoma State and the club’s coach and advisor. “One day it was next to Georgia Tech’s, another day it was next to UCLA’s. And people asked me, ‘Sonoma, where’s that? Is that near Flagstaff? Sedona?’ ”
Reeder lived in Colombia for part of his childhood. It was a time of civil unrest, and Reeder spent most of his time in the backyard. His father taught him to use a bow, and the boy spent hours firing arrows at rotten mangos.
A few years ago, Reeder was looking to start an archery club at SSU. Coincidentally, so were a few students, including then-sophomore Truskolaski. They combined their efforts and the club was born.
After spending most of the first year practicing in the field house, the Sonoma State archers were given a place at the campus track. The targets are backed by a berm, 20 to 25 feet high, and behind that are trees and open space. In other words, there is a little chance of a wayward arrow causing injury.
In fact, administered properly, archery is not a particularly dangerous activity.
“When we were getting the club started, the school understandably was worried about liability,” Reeder said. “We were able to find out from the insurance company and from a variety of other sources that in official actuarial tables, archery is the fourth safest of all recognized collegiate sports.”
Because of its relaxed atmosphere, the SSU archery club is a fairly fluid group. Everyone is welcome, even first-timers. The club has starter bows and arrows to lend.
“I tell people I’ll have them hitting a hay bale at 10 yards the first time they shoot,” said Truskolaski, who just graduated with a geography degree and want to fly search-and-rescue planes.
Truskolaski said the team usually starts the school year with about 50 members. Then it rains and some drop out. Then come midterms, and more fall off. By the end of the term, the club is left with about 15 dedicated archers.