OTTUMWA — From state titles to the Best in the Midwest.
The Ottumwa archery program has traveled near and far, challenging themselves for medals and championships against the best competition in the country. From Des Moines to Louisville, from the Iowa Games to the NASP nationals, the calendar is routinely full of meets that require the Bulldog archers to be at their best.
That calendar will grow by a few more days this week. Kiley Bankson and Jeff Shauman will be the first Ottumwa representatives to compete in archery at the State Games of America, which get underway today and last until August 4 in Lynchburg, Virginia.
"None of us have ever competed in this venue before," Ottumwa archery coach Deb Schlechter said. "I think the kids are ready. Having competed at the Iowa Games, which we've competed at for several years, and going through all the festivities really warms the kids up for what they're going to experience in this event. The only difference is it will be a bigger venue with kids from all over the country, not just from the state of Iowa.
"I think the kids are a little bit nervous, but I think they'll be fine. It's pretty big for these kids. They can go on as grown adults and still compete in the Iowa Games in both the summer or the winter. They'll still be able to qualify for the State Games. It's another good avenue for our kids to compete and a chance to use their archery skills to open new avenues going forward."
The State Games of America is an Olympic-style event featuring competition between State Games medal winners (gold, silver, bronze) from across the nation. There are currently 30 states conducting or organizing statewide sports festivals known as State Games, including the Iowa Games where Bankson, Shauman, Michaela-Ann Schlecther and Ty Tucker all qualified to compete on the campus of Liberty University.
Schlecther and Tucker will not be able to compete due to previous obligations. Bankson and Shauman will have the chance to compete in an event that is expected to attract 14,000 competitors taking part in over 30 different sports.
"This is about as far as we've gone as a program during a season. It's cool stuff. We're getting pretty good," Shauman said. "It's quite an accomplishment. Being on this level is almost becoming second nature to most of us.
"I think the thing I'm most excited about is getting to shoot competitively again," Bankson added. "I'm a little nervous. There's going to be a lot of people there and they're all going to be really good. I just go out there and try my best. Hopefully, that will be good enough."
The State Games of America will be, as Coach Schlechter put it, the "grand finale" to the 2018-19 season for the ever-popular Ottumwa archery program. This season, Ottumwa had 49 archers compete at state and 21 that competed in the NASP national competition. Michaela-Ann Schlechter, Tucker and Shauman also competed in the Best in the Midwest, a competition put on by the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) back in May.
"I think (Bankson and Shauman) are going to do really well out at the State Games," OHS senior Michaela-Ann Schlechter said. "I hope we get a lot more kids coming out for the new (2019-20) season. I think the word is out there now. A lot of people know how successful our program has become."
After the State Games of America, the 2019-20 season for Ottumwa archery will be right around the corner. The new season will begin in October with preseason practices, opening the door for new archers to take part in the new season, with the season officially getting underway in November.
"It's been a good, successful season. We've created a bigger base. Many kids that were competing for the elementary teams are going to be moving up to the middle school team. That opens the door for the middle schoolers moving up to high school, which opens up room for the new kids coming up for the elementary team with the new fourth graders," Deb Schlechter said. "It was kind of rough for a little while this season with the bad weather that caused us to miss some tournaments, but we just keep the cycle going. The kids made up for it. The high school team qualified for Worlds. We made it to the state and national competitions. It's been pretty cool. I'm ready for the new season to begin."