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By Mariah Griffith
From the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine
Archery requires rigorous concentration and is steeped in history, but two Iowa teens are starting a new chapter—Nick Wright of Spencer will be the first Iowa archer from a national after-school program to receive a collegiate athletic scholarship this fall, and David Machart of Anamosa is the first Iowan, fifth in the nation, to score a perfect 300.
Nick Wright’s childhood interest in archery developed through watching his older cousin and brother compete in the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP).
This volunteer-run program was nationally founded in 2001, and provides archery opportunities for fourth through 12th grade students. In Iowa, the DNR coordinates both the in-school and after-school programs, with about 300 schools and 50,000 students participating during the school day.
“Nick’s brother Jesse was only a year and a half older, and as they grew up, you’d swear those two were attached at the hip,” says coach Teresa Ball. “When Jesse started shooting, Nick was already at every practice and knew how NASP shooting worked, so we handed him a bow.”
Wright started competing in NASP tournaments as a seventh grader, consistently earning about 250 out of 300 possible points. On the side, he picked up bowfishing and continued to shoot through NASP with his brother, friends and classmates the next several years.
While he enjoyed competitions and continued to improve, Wright says he was surprised by his success. He finally realized his potential as a high school junior, but an accident nearly dashed his progress the following summer.
Wright was riding his motorcycle down a gravel road he knew well, coming up on an s-curve and a set of railroad tracks.
“As I came up to the turn I felt my bike sliding out from under me, and I realized oh man, this could end badly,” Wright says. “I was just going too fast and came up on it strangely.”
Somehow, Wright walked away from the 35 mph slide relatively unscathed. He had a broken pinky and some road rash, but no other major injuries. “I was still freaking out a bit,” Wright says. “I was set to compete in the Iowa Summer Games three days later, and it was just up in the air whether I’d still be able to do that with a broken finger.”
Wright refused to tell his coach or the event administrators about his injury, and was able to shoot a 263 despite significant pain in his hand. He was worried about his senior season at that point, but by winter everything was back to normal—he consistently shot within 15 points of perfection. Still, Wright was surprised and elated to be recruited for the budding archery program at Union College in Barbourville, Ky., where he plans to study architecture in the fall.
Since graduation and NASP nationals in May, Wright says there haven’t been scheduled practices, but he sets one up in the team’s usual venue. In season, the elementary, middle and high school archers shoot there for an hour every day, staggering the age groups over the course of the afternoon. It’s a small gym off what used to be a school, and now houses a senior center and apartments.
Inside, the lack of air conditioning and plentiful Iowa humidity immediately fogs up my glasses, but the eight archers there don’t seem to mind. Some of the younger kids shuffle shyly around the plastic chairs in the back of the room as their parents prompt them to tell me their names and ages. Most of the parents present are also coaches. With two quick whistle blasts from mom and coach Stacey Robinson, the archers grab their bows and line up facing targets across the room.
“NASP is really fun for students—which is why they come back year after year—but honestly if there’s a word this program makes me think of, it’s regimented,” says coach Ball. “Everything is done according to whistle patterns, everything is predictable and that’s part of the way this program can stay so safe.”
Wright, one of the oldest in the program, stands next to an excitable 8-year-old named Sarah, who’s one of the youngest. Dressed in a bright pink t-shirt and fiddling with her bow, she whispers someday she’s going to try and beat her older sister’s scores and maybe even Wright’s. Wright cracks a smile, and one whistle later they’re all shooting with surprising speed and accuracy. Wright’s cluster of arrows is the tightest, with just one arrow straying toward the edge of the target’s yellow center, but even Sarah’s arrows nearly all connect.
“For some of the younger shooters, just hitting the target is a success and it’s not about the points,” says Ball. “But a few tournaments or years later those same kids can improve by hundreds of points. By high school most of our shooters are very consistent and they still love doing it.”
Three more whistles, and all archers walk down range to grab their arrows. Wright points out the target he shot, round with a yellow center so peppered there’s almost more of the black under material showing than color.
“Those targets just got used by the high school team and were new a few weeks before nationals,” he grins. There are decidedly fewer pockmarks in the rings further from the center. “But it’s a lot easier to shoot perfectly in practice.”
To change up the routine, Ball and Robinson explain a few games they’ve rigged up to help younger archers practice their aim. About once a week they print off images to put over the targets (the archers excitedly rattle off favorites like clowns, hearts, zombies and spiders), pick a spot on the target other than the yellow center ring to aim for or shoot the centers out of doughnuts. Another time, they tell me one of the shooters’ dads came up with a vacuum contraption to make a ping pong ball float for a target. Back behind the shooting line, Sarah and another pink-clad girl named Kaylah rest their bows on the toe of their sneakers. Sarah spins her purple bow back and forth (it’s nearly as tall as she is) but politely waits and says nothing as her coaches chat with me.
“Oh, are you waiting to shoot some more?” Robinson smiles, grabbing her whistle for another quick tweet. The kids hurry back to the line and another flurry of arrows launches down range.
Ball smiles at the younger kids maternally—she’s already had a few children go through the program and has a few more that could join in the future.
“This program is really important to all the kids, but especially for some of the kids that struggle academically,” she says. In order for Spencer students to compete, they must pass all classes and avoid behavior referrals. This isn’t a nation-wide requirement of NASP, but many schools institute similar policies. “I’ve had parents call and say their children wouldn’t have graduated without it,” Ball smiles.
At the table next to us, Wright is packing up his bow and chatting with a friend about their afternoon bowfishing plans. They’ll be looking for invasive carp in a nearby stream.
“Nick’s been around forever, so the fact that he’s leaving, it’s kind of sad,” says Ball. “But we’re all really excited and proud of him. He’ll do great, however long he wants to keep shooting.”
David Machart started shooting as a child on family hunts.
“David was already shooting early in elementary school,” says his mother, Sheila Machart. “We always encouraged our kids to enjoy being outside, and from the start David had a real passion and drive.”
David recounts it more as childhood escapades.
“I remember going out with my dad and my younger sister and shooting for hours,” he says. “It didn’t really matter if I hit anything—I think it helped that the whole family was into it, but I’ve always liked being out there and walking around in the brush.”
Anamosa also had a local NASP following, which David’s older sister Mackenzie enjoyed, so when David got old enough he followed her lead and started competing. Almost immediately, his family knew he had potential—his middle school scores rivaled those of high school athletes in the program, even though the bow he shot with was very different from the hunting bow he used.
“He’s been great all along,” Sheila says. “But I don’t think he realized he was part of an elite group until his junior year of high school.”
By that point, David was consistently shooting within 5 points of a perfect 300, which earned him the titles of state champion in the Iowa NASP 3D and bullseye tournaments, second runner-up at the NASP national tournament and runner-up at the NASP world championship. With those titles came victor’s spoils, including multiple bows and a $10,000 scholarship from the national tournament. So he set his sights a little higher, planning to get a perfect score at least once during his senior year and to take first place at nationals.
In February, he was ready. It was the last home meet of the year, the day before his 18th birthday and he had just one arrow left. All the others had already landed neatly in the bullseye. As he drew the arrow back to his cheek, Machart says he tried not to overthink the shot.
“We tell the archers they want to shoot like a robot,” says Sean Braden, head coach of the Anamosa NASP team. “Robots don’t make mistakes, they don’t change how they do something if someone is watching and they don’t take too long thinking about things.”
David’s last arrow flew straight to the center of the target, and his mother burst into tears of excitement. Standing together, the arrow shafts looked like a feathery bouquet.
“I started crying because he just worked so hard,” she says. “I’m so thankful that he was able to set a goal that high and accomplish it.”
David shortly accomplished his other goal—taking first place in nationals last May—which earned him a $20,000 scholarship. Another tournament, the Centershot Ministries Nationals, brought an even less expected prize—the opportunity to travel to South Africa with an all-star team of 16 archers to bowhunt and complete a service project.
“Honestly we decided to do that tournament as a warm-up—it was a Friday and there was another shoot on Saturday,” says Braden. David says he didn’t even know about the possibility of prizes going into the tournament. However, he and his dad are getting excited for the trip, and hope to take a few sustainably-harvested prizes home.
“David is really set on bringing home a porcupine,” says his mother. “I don’t really know what he wants to do with it though!”
She says the family normally eats everything they harvest and surprisingly, the tastiest treat yet has been bear. David and his father went to Canada to hunt bears last year, and after three days of hunting, David managed to shoot a black bear with his bow in the afternoon and recovered it the next morning.
“I was actually a little disappointed with my shot because, in hind sight, I shot it like a deer,” David says. It was still a good shot, but a great shot on a deer falls right behind the shoulder blade whereas a great shot on a bear is further back. “I was glad to bring it down because I wanted it to be quick and clean,” David says. “That definitely won’t be my last time in Canada, and now I know a bit more from experience.”
He also called in and brought down his first turkey last spring.
“We go hunting in a lot of places near home,” says David’s father Chad. “David’s very picky about his target and his shot, no matter what the season, but I told him to just go try it.”
Machart had planned on turkey hunting with his dad, but ended up calling for them alone after school one day. He was busy trying to quietly battle a swarm of wasps in his blind when two toms walked up, gobbling. A little surprised, David drew his arrow and aimed at the bird still 30 yards away. He let it fly, and the bird came down quickly—a perfect bullseye.
“It was the first one I’d called in alone and I got a good shot on it, so I was pretty excited,” Machart says with a laugh.
David was right on target again at the 2016 NASP World tournament, where he placed third with a 297.
Despite his excellence, coach Braden says he’s going to miss David because he’s down-to-earth and genuine.
“In tournaments, archers shoot two to a target,” says Braden. “I remember one tournament where David was shooting with a young girl from another school — I think it was her first competition ever. David noticed her arrow rest was facing the wrong way, so before the command to shoot he reached over, flicked it back into place and smiled at her before knocking his arrow. Later that night I had other coaches thanking me for how courteous he had been, but I said don’t thank me—that’s just who he is.”
David plans to attend Kirkwood College in the fall with scholarship money he’s earned from archery tournaments, and later transfer to Iowa State to earn a degree in agricultural business. While neither of these locations have a competitive archery team, David says he plans to continue shooting for fun with friends, bowhunt and join an archery club, if he has time. After graduation, he might pursue further competitions in Vegas or try to qualify for the Olympics, although he would have to learn to use a recurve bow, which is more physically demanding to shoot than a compound model.
“I’m sure I’ll always have a bow of some sort in the future,” says David. “I have at least 12 right now…
I should really count them all sometime!”
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