Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
The driveway is so narrow and the sign so innocuous, I initially missed the turn off 17th Street.
After a U-turn, I found my destination. I followed a woodland path to a field, with a older building on the right and a fence straight ahead, blocking cars from entering a field lined with two things: Targets and inanimate animals. It’s October now, and this occurring at dusk, I couldn’t help but feel for a second like I had entered a Halloween slasher film.
Then I saw the Hubbell family on the range, and any of my creeping horror thoughts dissipated instantly.
This was not the site of a slasher film. It was the grounds of the Sarasota Archers, which has been at its 17th Street location since approximately 1970, and in existence since the late '50s, according to 30-year member and de-facto club historian Myers Parish.
The Hubbell family has been members of the club since 2010, they said. Rick Hubbell, the family’s patriarch, has been practicing archery almost all his life, and got his family, including wife Kashy Hubbell and son Robbie Hubbell, 15, into the sport about nine years ago, he said.
Robbie is the star of the family (and the club) now. He is a two-time Archery Shooters Association (ASA) Middle School State Champion and a two-time ASA Shooter of the Year selection. The kid is money. I watched him shoot at one of the range’s 3D targets, this one taking the form of a hyena-looking animal, using a compound bow, and he never missed.
The Hubbells believe archery has given Robbie discipline and focus, plus has taught him the importance of safety. No one wants to mess around and catch an arrow to the eye, after all.
“He has nerves of steel now,” Kashy said, and it’s true. I used my camera’s flash right in his face while taking pictures. The kid didn’t flinch.
Robbie does trick shots, too, he said, and though I didn’t get to see any on this night, I believe him. He’s shot apples off something equating a human head and he’s nailed a quarter with an arrow from 20 yards away. He’s even pulled off a handful of “Robin Hoods,” re-creating the famous movie scene where the titular hero hits a bullseye, then splits the shaft of that arrow with another arrow. That gets expensive, though, so the family doesn’t encourage that one, Rick said while laughing.
Though Robbie has natural skills, he honed them at the club. It gave him the bedrock knowledge and tips he needed to become great. At 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, Bob Bouchard, a USA Archery Level Three-NTS certified coach, gives free lessons to kids and beginners who are looking to get into the sport (though the club does accept donations). He makes it fun, too: He blows up balloons nice and big, so they are almost ready to pop, and has the kids fire at them. For each balloon a kid pops, the kid gets a raffle ticket. At the end of practice, two tickets are drawn, and the kids with those tickets get a fidget spinner.
Why does Bouchard do it each week?
“The looks on their faces when they hit a target,” he said. He then pulled out his phone and went to his photo gallery. It was filled with kids standing next to the first targets and bullseyes they hit, so they can keep those memories forever.
Bouchard also provides the discipline and patience that was so important in Robbie Hubbell’s development. Kids have to stand in a line and wait to fire until Bouchard tells them to do so, he said. That requires focus. Bouchard works with them until they get it right.
The club provides the targets, bows and arrows, so all you have to do is arrive. After the kids practice, adults can get some practice time, too, if you’re looking for a new hobby. Sarasota Archers stays open 24/7 for members, if you decide to scratch that particular itch often and join the club.
It’s worth checking out, at least. Archery is something I enjoyed while in the Boy Scouts of America but never pursued outside of that, for one reason or another.
Perhaps if I had, I would have gleaned some of that discipline Robbie Hubbell has, and I wouldn’t be writing this column right against my deadline.
The world will never know.