Last week was an odd one in Florida: a man was named mother of the year in Hardee County, the love bug was nominated for the title of state insect, and in DeLand the citizens were being lectured on cosmic attack. Instead, the town was being invaded by a horde armed with torque flight stabilizers, clickers and kisser buttons. In all, there were 172 invaders. Their goal: to make off with the gold at the U.S. Intercollegiate Archery Championships held at Stetson University. The gold they were after was in the center ring of their targets.
On hand for the two-day shootout at distances ranging from 120 to 230 feet were representatives of 39 colleges, testimony to the growth of the sport. Collegiate archery sprouted in the '30s, then faded away with the advent of World War II. Now it is back.
At many schools, though, it is a club sport. Because of this and cutbacks in athletic budgets, quite a few teams had to raise their own money to get to DeLand. They sold stationery and Christmas cards, washed cars and raffled off everything from old shoes to water beds.
As impressive as the recent growth and vigor of the sport has been, the evolution of archery equipment is even more remarkable. Stabilizers—metal rods and weights that steady and balance the bow—have been developed. Clickers, which signal the proper moment to release the arrow, have come into wide use. And kisser buttons? They are attachments fastened to the bowstring; when the string is drawn back properly, they fit between the archer's lips.
A few years ago a woman offhandedly accepted a college coaching job, believing archery was as simple as baking cake. As soon as she inspected her team's equipment, she resigned. "The stuff they use is unsafe," she explained. "Why, they don't even have suction cups on the arrows." The equipment most assuredly is nothing like that found at a children's summer camp.
The least exotic gear at last week's tournament was an antique lampstand used by Tim Hyde of Atlantic Community College in Mays Landing, N.J. Unlike other archers, who mounted telescopes on tripods so they could see exactly where their arrows hit, Hyde taped his scope to a lampstand.
At 8 a.m. on Friday the tournament festivities commenced with the teams marching onto the archery range, which otherwise serves as a soccer field. Since there was no band to provide martial music, the archers improvised, whistling Sousa numbers. Bob Ryder, the defending champion from Madison College in Harrisonburg, Va., did not participate in the parade because the previous week he had broken his left ankle when, he explained, "I tripped over my stupidity." He had stepped in a hole while chasing a friend who had doused him with water.
More trouble loomed ahead for Ryder. Early in the competition the aluminum handgrip on his bow shattered while he was shooting. But his fellow competitors rallied round, offering help and spare equipment. Ryder borrowed a bow from Don Rabska of San Bernardino (Calif.) Valley College, one of the few accorded a chance of taking Ryder's title. Time was called while archers fixed the bow as best they could to suit Ryder's particular needs. Using pliers, screwdrivers, parts stripped from the broken bow and pieces of their own gear, they provided him with a ready-to-shoot weapon. "Hey, I appreciate this," he kept saying, obviously moved.
Such sportsmanship is the rule in archery. "A couple of weeks ago at the Philadelphia Invitational a guy had bow trouble," Ryder recalled, "and the officials wouldn't give him the time he needed to find new equipment, so the other archers stepped off the shooting line and began unstringing their bows, ready to go home. Winning wasn't that important. Finally the officials relented and the tournament continued."
It normally takes days for an archer to become accustomed to a bow, but on his second try with the borrowed weapon Ryder shot a 10-point gold. He continued to perform well, but his bad ankle and a slow start were too much to overcome. He finished third, three notches ahead of Rabska, his benefactor.
Because of numerous delays, Friday's competition did not end until nearly 8:30 p.m. By that time the sun had sunk behind the oak trees festooned with Spanish moss and archers were taking their shots in the gloaming. Tim Hyde even flicked on the battery-operated bulb in his lampstand.
When each entrant had fired the last of his 150 arrows on Friday, the leader by four points in the men's division was Kevin Erlandson of San Bernardino. Erlandson has a mustache, bushy sideburns and a belly that overhangs his belt. On Saturday there were 72 shots to be taken and after the first six Erlandson lost his lead. He never regained it and finally finished fourth.
That narrowed the contenders to 23-year-old Rick Stonebraker, a freshman at Penn State's Altoona campus, and 21-year-old Steve Lieberman of Arizona State. Stonebraker is a free spirit who used to work as a chimney and tower climber. "I climbed a 400-foot radio tower once to change a light bulb," he said. "Got $100 for an hour's work. The highest I ever went was when I climbed a chimney on top of a building in Ashtabula, Ohio. That was 550 feet. I like it up there. It's peaceful and quiet, and the air is clean."
Stonebraker's life on terra firma has been anything but peaceful. The Navy veteran has been bitten by a rattlesnake, stabbed and, just a few weeks ago, was threatened with a .357 Magnum in a case of mistaken identity.
Most archers brought dozens of arrows to Stetson. Not Stonebraker. "I brought six," he said. "They're slightly bent, but they know their way to the target." They certainly did. Finishing strongly, Stonebraker came in second, 21 points behind Lieberman, who reclaimed the title he won in 1971 and 1972.
The worst moment in Lieberman's career came at the Olympic Trials in 1972 when he seemed to have a spot on the team locked up and then inexplicably lost his form. He has won numerous events before and since. In 1970 Lieberman took the world field archery championship, in which the targets are located in the woods. "That was in Wales," he said. "They allowed the sheep to wander wherever they wanted. It rained the morning the tournament started and I slipped and landed in some, ah, sheep extract. Then I shot my first two arrows into a tree and was totally depressed. But I went on to win." He also won the Challenge Benedictine in France in '71 and '73, an event for the world's best archers in both field and target shooting.
Arizona State's Carol Jurn, who had been second, fourth and second the past three years, won the women's title in DeLand. San Bernardino's string of three straight men's team titles was ended by the Sun Devils, but the Californians did take women's team honors.
The host school was named after John B. Stetson, the hat manufacturer. In the six previous intercollegiates, no Hatter had ever placed higher than 17th, but in DeLand, Stetson got a third and ninth in the women's division. When the last shot had been fired it was hats off—Stetsons, that is—to all the archers for a tournament that really clicked.