The sport of archery has gained its best ambassador and best promoter in years in the person of Justin Huish. The 21-year-old archer won two gold medals in the 1996 summer Olympiad. Huish's freshness, candor and his unabashed love for the game reflect in the archer's vocal support and promotion of the Junior Olympic Archery Development Program and Olympic shooting at every opportunity. Huish wants to make archery, which he finds not as newcomer-friendly as it should be, a popular and accessible sport to children.
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1997 Publishers' Development Corporation
Take a long-haired kid from the left coast a little into his 20s, add the Olympics, toss in a bow and some arrows, and stir. What do you get? The hottest ticket in archery today: Justin Huish.
At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Justin won two gold medals, the first in the Archery Men's Individual Competition and the second in Archery Men's Team Competition. His unrestrained enthusiasm at the time, and his freshness and candor now, make him the best ambassador archery has had in years.
Justin has been involved with archery since he was a youngster. For a number of years his parents owned Arrowsmith Archery, a pro shop in Simi Valley, Calif., which they ran "in shifts" around their regular jobs. Although the shop was successful, when Justin became active in competition archery, it got to be too much and his parents closed the shop, sold the inventory, and put their energy into other matters.
But the exposure to archery got Justin into the sport.
"In the summer of 1989, I wanted to work in the shop just to make some money as a part-time job," he said. "I started figuring out what the tournaments were all about. In October that year, I picked up a bow for the first time. I was 14."
From that point, Justin advanced to Olympic readiness by shooting in JOAD, the Junior Olympic Archery Development program.
"No matter what tournament I went to, I always shot in the JOAD division," Justin said. "When I turned 18 and had to become a senior, I made the United States Archery Team for the first time. I was at Arizona State University, going to school on an archery scholarship, and they canceled the program. About that time the U.S. Olympic Training Center opened, and I moved there and started training for the Olympics for two years."
Justin said he didn't think he'd win at the Olympics.
"I was registered to go back to school on August 15," he said. "I'd made the Olympic Team, and I thought that would be about it. I mean, I wanted to win, but there's a realism factor."
He didn't make it back to school in August. He was sort of busy.
One of Justin's goals for the next four years - until the next Olympics - is to do whatever he can to give something back to the archery industry which has given so much to him. At every opportunity he tells people about the JOAD program, promoting it and Olympic shooting.
"I'm promoting as much as I can," he said. Then he adds frankly, "But I'm such a rookie at this that I have no clue what all I can do. I just know a lot of people are interested in what I did. I've been watching Jay (Jay Barrs, one of his teammates) and I'm picking up on things he does, seminars and things like that. I never thought I'd be in a position where I'd be doing this kind of stuff."
Justin says he disagrees with some organizers of competitive archery who want to see more spectators at shooting events.
"I want more shooters," he said. "Shooting's what matters. If I give you a chance to shoot a bow and you shoot and hit the middle, the feeling you get is a whole lot better than if you come and watch."
One of Justin's assets for the industry is his ability to speak to kids. He says, frankly, that archery is not as newcomer-friendly as it could be.
"Now I know who to call and where to go, and where ranges are," he said. "But if I didn't know archery, I wouldn't know where to begin. We need something like an 800 number people can call to find out where to go about archery. We need to work on how kids can get started. That's one of the big hurdles. Once kids know about archery and once we have their interest, they're in."
The best source of information, he said, is JOAD.
"That's the main infrastructure of all the youth shooting programs. If you can get into that, you can join a junior league team, get some equipment, and get some recognition," he said. "It will boost your confidence and help you make a senior team later. That whole process will help you through all the quirks of shooting in a tournament setting." He said there are opportunities for many kinds of shooting in a JOAD program, and many ways for kids to compete.
One of his aspirations is to learn to bowhunt. But he's skittish about doing it in the limelight, with the world looking over his shoulder. He's waiting until he can slip off quietly, out of the public eye.
"I don't know much about hunting," he said. "I was going to try some last fall, but with everything that was going on I didn't want to cope with the press criticizing me for killing animals."
Randy Schoeck, of Easton Aluminum, said Justin already has contributed a great deal to the image of archery.
"Right off the bat, his win did a lot for the visibility of archery in general. The Atlanta Olympic Committee said that a general poll taken right after the Olympics put Justin Huish third in terms of overall popularity around the world. He is very photogenic, and has that 'Generation X' look," Schoeck said. "The timing couldn't have been better, because archery is having a bit of a struggle to match interest in roller blading and roller hockey and some of the extreme sports. We don't want to take people away from those sports, but we want archery to have some of the same visibility. It was the first time archery has had prime-time exposure in a long time."
Within days of the Olympic win, Schoeck said, he was hearing of archery shops in Southern California inundated by kids wanting to emulate Justin.
"They came out with their hats on backwards, their longhair, and they said, 'I want to start shooting a bow and arrow,'" he said. "We had calls from dealers all over the country asking 'What's going on? I'm having a run on low-poundage recurves.'"
Unfortunately, Schoeck says, a lot of retailers were not prepared to capitalize on Justin's popularity. But at the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization (AMO) and the SHOT Shows earlier this year, dealers were clearly aiming at youth as they ordered large numbers of lighter recurves and bundles of inexpensive arrows.
Schoeck said retailers can utilize the popular image of a youthful Olympic winner to bring youngsters into the archery family.
"Dealers need to be involved at the ground level," Schoeck said. "A retailer's inventory needs to include low-poundage recurves and smaller, inexpensive kit-type compounds. You need to get people on your staff who can teach archery after school and who'll be patient with the kids. You may have to let them shoot for free sometimes. That's where the next generation of archery customers are going to come from."
That's how it all began for Justin.
"He dinked around in his parents' archery shop. At 14, he started seriously shooting. At 15, he won his first local tournament. Then he got the bug."
AMO officials found Justin's story so appealing they have produced a video called "Right on Target."
"AMO is taking 'Right on Target' to schools," Schoeck said. "Retailers need to be prepared for the possibility that 20 kids out of 200 may come down to their shop."
In the past, Schoeck said, retailers have not catered to the under-20 crowd because there hasn't been much of a market there. But with the combination of Justin's public image and the industry's efforts to recruit young shooters, dealers need to be looking at how they can attract and hold older teenagers.
What this all amounts to is Justin Huish is the best thing that's happened to archery in 20 years. He's young, photogenic, and committed to archery. That image will bring kids to your door. It's up to you to capture their interest, not only for your future, but for the future of our entire sport.
Boyles-Sprenkel, Carolee. "Justin Huish - the best thing that's happened to archery in 20 years." Shooting Industry 42.10 (1997): 22+. Military and Intelligence Database. Web. 10 Nov. 2009.
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