On Oct. 24, in the chill evening air of the parking lot outside of Laurel Church, you could hear the thrum of bowstrings and slap of arrowheads hitting targets.
With over half a dozen arrows being loosed and striking home in tandem, the sound was more reminiscent of a battle scene or training yard from the days of yore than it was to a typical event at a house of worship. Except instead of war horns and drill sergeants yelling at recruits in the background, there was laughter and happy chatter.
For the time being, Laurel Church has agreed to let the newly re-founded Western Archery Club hold their practice sessions in the main room of their building. It’s not a small room, but the 27 occupants in attendance to shoot, in conjunction with the space needed to create a firing range, made the large area feel a bit crowded.
That crowd was the direct result of two students who have worked hard to bring a neglected sport back into the new wave of fashion.
Freshman Vanessa Miewald and senior Olivia Hall are the co-founders of the current iteration of the Western Archery Club. The club was recently approved by Western as an official club after the founders went through what they described as a mountain of red tape in terms of liability paperwork.
Before they even got to that part, though, the club needed a little serendipitous intervention to help get the ball rolling.
Miewald, who has been shooting since she was a child, recently moved to Bellingham from Mill Creek to attend Western. As someone who says she takes her archery seriously and has aspirations for the Olympics, she was disappointed by the lack of an archery “club scene” in the area.
A quick Google search will confirm that if your interests lay in the realm of shooting bows, there are few resources in the area that cater to that market.
One of the stores that does, Brisky Bows out of Ferndale, is where Miewald and Hall first connected.
Hall said she had been taking shooting lessons from owner Curt Brisky for a month or two when Miewald walked into his shop for the first time. Brisky and Miewald struck up a conversation, and Miewald expressed her disappointment over the lack of an archery scene in town. While he didn’t have an answer to the club problem on his own, Brisky gave Miewald’s contact information to Hall and suggested they should get together to discuss their options.
After meeting for the first time, the answer to the co-founders’ archery issue became apparent: If you build it, they will come.
However, they needed to do more than just fill out the paperwork. Miewald and Hall also needed to find a volunteer coach because they couldn’t afford to pay one. Then, they had to find a venue to hold their meetings because they also couldn’t afford field time at the Wade King Recreation Center on campus. Lastly, they needed equipment for beginners who might not have their own.
Thanks to Bill Stinson of Golden Arrow Archery Services, they found most of those things in one place.
Hall said they stumbled upon Stinson, an olympic-certified instructor and bow repairer who works out of his home, after a few phone calls around the local archery community. Stinson was already using the Laurel Church space to teach high school-aged students the basics of archery, and Hall said convincing him to let them use the space as well wasn’t a hard sell.
The pair’s dually expressed desire to “help create [an archery] community in Bellingham” resonated with Stinson to the point that he volunteered to be the club’s main coach for the time being.
Stinson being the club’s coach has benefits as well. As a certified Junior Olympic Archery Development coach, he has access to equipment that helps make the club a possibility. A rack of compound bows, a row of targets, safety netting to help catch stray shots and piles upon piles of practice arrows helped make their first shoot a success.
The co-founders said they had around 70 people sign up for the club, but they described the 27 that showed up to their initial fun shoot as a solid number for the first Western Archery Club event since the 1920s.
While she was happy with the turnout, Hall noted that she expected to have even more club shooters among their ranks after their Friday night practice shoot at Ebenezer Christian School in Lynden.
But the club’s founders aren’t satisfied with just a good start.
Stinson said one of his major goals with the club is to help get them a grant so they can provide more resources for club members and broaden their reach. Stinson said he hopes the grant would help to pay for field time, coaches, club equipment, repairs, tournament costs and adaptive equipment to help shooters with disabilities.
Adaptive equipment is an important investment according to Pam Stinson, an Olympic archery instructor and Bill Stinson’s wife, who stressed that archery is an inclusive sport. Regardless of any perceived handicap, she said she wants to assure readers that everyone can participate. She related stories of shooters with one arm shooting with their teeth, shooters without arms shooting with their feet and shooters without eyesight using assistance to help zero-in on their targets.
“Archery is for everyone,” Pam Stinson said.
The Archery Club meets every Wednesday from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Laurel Church off of Guide Meridian Road.
Many club members also participate in a “fun shoot” that takes place every Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Ebenezer Christian School. While the Laurel Church meeting is free and geared toward younger shooters, the Ebenezer shoot has a fee of $5, is open to the public and is more “adult-oriented.”