Published February 25, 2017
TAHLEQUAH – About 350 students from 30 rural Oklahoma schools showcased an ancient sport Friday during the tribe’s first ever Cherokee Nation Archery Tournament.
Cherokee Nation citizen and world-champion archer Joe Thornton, who turned 100 last year, was grinning ear to ear as he stepped onto the Cherokee Nation’s new archery range to watch students compete. The park was built last fall and named in his honor.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker greeted Thornton during the opening round of the tournament, which was coordinated for the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools. The two stood together and surveyed the line of archers aiming for their targets.
“Seeing so many kids across Oklahoma participate in our inaugural event makes me very proud. One of the primary reasons Cherokee Nation built an archery range of this caliber is to make it easier for our young people to engage in a pastime that connects them to our history and culture, but also serves as a healthy pastime with tremendous physical activity,” Chief Baker said.
In recent years, hundreds of Oklahoma schools, including many in the Cherokee Nation, have established archery programs to encourage increased physical activity among students and improve attendance and behavior.
Friday’s Cherokee Nation Archery Tournament allowed students to hone their skills ahead of the organization’s upcoming state competition in Shawnee.
“I really appreciate the Cherokee Nation for stepping up and taking care of our schools,” ORES President John Cox said. “This is just one way we can put our students out there to compete and excel in a different sport. Archery reaches out to those kids who may not be interested in other sports. It can also be a lifelong sport, and in our rural schools it really hones their skills to be able to hunt and enjoy nature.”
Leach seventh-grader Heaven Cochran, from Delaware County, began shooting about two years ago and hopes to one day use her archery skills for hunting.
“It’s my favorite sport,” she said.
Noah Goad, a Tenkiller School fifth-grader from Cherokee County, also said he enjoys shooting a bow. He made his first trip to the Cherokee Nation’s archery park early Friday and, during competitive shooting, took his time to properly aim at his target.
“It’s a good archery range,” Goad said. “But the wind has made a difference. It makes it harder.”
Thornton was elated to see hundreds of children with a bow in their hands Friday.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen so many young folks enjoying archery,” Thornton said. “Archery is a good sport, and I’m glad to see them doing something like this instead of sitting and playing on a computer.”
Cherokee Nation’s Joe Thornton Archery Range, which is just west of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, is the first ever built on tribal lands and third public archery park in Oklahoma. Aside from the Olympic-style range, the park features 3-D targets, archery skeet shooting and a human foosball field.
For more information about the tribe’s archery range, contact Brian Jackson at 918-453-5000, ext. 7053.
To learn more about Oklahoma school archery programs, log on to https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/education/archery/archery-schools-program-oknasp.
For a list of winners and schools participating visit Facebook.com/theCherokeeNation.
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This BBSNews article originally appeared on Native News Online.