A Culture of Heroes – Spotlight on John Muir Magnet School
Interview with Coach Vincent Stevens from the John Muir Magnet School
A Culture of Heroes
Every school has its own, unique identity that is shaped by the many parts that compose it, from the look of the classrooms to the personalities of the teachers and the students they teach. For a school in central San Diego, their identity and culture is being re-shaped by the introduction of a new sport on their campus…Olympic-style archery. In fact, archery is the only sport that the school offers, which is having impacts beyond the target.
John Muir Magnet School is relatively new to the OAS Program (Olympic Archery in Schools). It was just over a year ago that their coach, Vincent Stevens, first got trained by me during one of our OAS coach courses. By joining OAS, John Muir became part of a growing movement to give youth more opportunities to participate and excel in Olympic-style archery and to establish it as a mainstream sport. Operated by the Easton Foundations, OAS organizes leagues and inter-school competitions as well as provides the needed archery equipment, training, and support to have safe, fun, and quality archery programs.
After getting certified, Coach Stevens started up John Muir’s archery program in late February of 2012. Three months later, their small team would journey up to Los Angeles for the California OAS State Championships held at Glendale High School and return with medals in hand: four medals were earned from the ranking round, gold from the team round, and four medals from the Olympic Round. Though a majority of their archers graduated in June, this year’s team is off to a strong start, finishing at the top of their divisions in the OAS Mail-in Tournament. The club has continued to grow and meets every Monday after school. Students wanting to get in more practice, come to school early each day to work with Coach Vince on the range. Archery was also added to the PE program when Caryn Maroni, the school’s PE teacher, got certified to teach the sport.
Not only are these achievements cause for celebration, but this success has had a much deeper impact back home, both on the individual archers and the school itself. “The culture of our school has changed now…archery has become something that identifies our school,” says Vince. “In our school’s 40 some odd years history there’s never been a sport at our school, just been too small and not enough money for it. Now there is and the best part about it is kids who weren’t necessarily great at academics, who didn’t necessarily think they were good at anything, have found out they are good at something . Not only are they good at sports, kids who weren’t focusing well, are learning how to focus, learning how to become more precise not just on the target but also in a classroom. They’re learning some character traits that they didn’t necessarily have before, or at least weren’t evident.”
These archers are also having an impact on their peers. Earlier during their club practice we had the opportunity to present medals to several of their archers for their performance in the OAS Mail-in Tournament. “These awards, the ribbons and medals…I’ve given lots of them for lots of different topics and subjects and things. You know we can go to any trophy store and we can buy stuff and buy them online…but it’s special…it’s special to the kid who is getting it. It means something because it’s symbolic of the work and the effort and the pain and the joy that they’ve put into that accomplishment,” says Vince. “And when these kids walk around tomorrow wearing those medals, and they will! I mean after our State competition, our archers wore those for two weeks they did! Everybody else in this school sees those medals and that gives them something to aspire to….that creates a culture of heroes, where we didn’t have any before.”
What started as curiosity from a small group of students has now created a legacy for future generations at the school. It was inspiring to be able to talk with Vince about his first hand experiences with their team and impacts the sport has on his school. We are excited to share this small glimpse into their archery story and we hope that you enjoy our interview with Coach Vincent Stevens.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us Coach Vince! Tell us about what you do here at John Muir.
Coach Vincent Stevens of John Muir School
Coach Stevens: I teach science from 7th through 12th…everything from 7th grade life science to 10th grade biology, chemistry in 11th grade to physical science and earth science in 9th grade. I’ve also even taught American literature for a year and currently I’m the ASB advisor and also, thanks to this program, I’m the OAS coach on our site.
How did you get involved with archery?
Coach Stevens: I’ve been involved with archery kind of off and on since I was a kid. I grew up in South East Missouri, kind of in the woods, so it was really a love of the outdoors that drew me towards archery. I’ve never done any real hunting, but it was traditional archery that interested me. Traditional styles probably because I grew up with you know, old movies from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s about Robin Hood and Errol Flynn and I was interested in the traditional side at first.
So years pass, and my daughter and I were thinking of something to do for the summer and we were in Balboa Park and happened across the archery range there. I had known it was there, but had forgotten about it for years. She was fascinated with it and it sort of brought back a lot of my interest in archery. We got her a bow from one of the local shops as well as a cheap bow for myself and we went to the range and started playing around with it. She still shoots occasionally, but really I’m the one that got really drawn into it, the whole culture really of archery, because it really is a culture.
Having starting out with traditional archery, what are your thoughts on the Olympic style?
Coach Stevens: Well in Olympic archery, and I’m sure it’s true with a lot of Olympic sports, there’s a terrific amount of very poignant research that goes into the biomechanics of that particular sport. For a lot of the biomechanics, traditional archers kind of fall into it sometimes, and sort of stumble upon, not really knowing what it is, not knowing how to characterize or qualify it in a way. So it’s difficult to turn and teach someone else how to be a good archer.
The BEST program, now called NTS is delineated in a way that shows you each step of the way. Even though it has certain steps, it doesn’t necessarily force you into any kind of box either so you can tweak things a little bit to each body type, because not everyone is built the same way, not everybody’s musculature is exactly the same. Some people have longer or shorter arms and so on. I found that taking some of the Olympic technique, the NTS system, and applying it to the traditional style I have learned from other people, I’m able to improve upon what I’m doing with it. Certainly I’ve known lots of traditional archers that were phenomenal archers up to a point in the range. I’m not one of them , however the NTS system has taught me to be the best archer that I can be.
It is apparent that you love archery, what other aspects of the sport interest you?
Coach Stevens: It’s not just the bow that fascinates me, it’s really the arrow, and you look at these new space age material arrows and they’re phenomenal, but they’re really not that much different from the master craftsmen arrows of yesterday…of wood. I’m not a woodworker, but I am building my own arrows. I’ve paid somebody else to actually take the dowels and taper them the way I want to make a barreled, wooden arrow, for my bare bow. I’ve learned all this stuff through reading, and I am also fascinated with the history and culture of archery, and the kind of character it sort of develops in people. I’ve yet to meet anyone in the traditional or Olympic world that wasn’t a fantastic human being.
What other coaching are you involved with?
Coach Stevens: The only other thing as far as coaching goes, is coaching every other Saturday down at the Olympic Training Center for the Roadrunner Archery Club. That has been a terrific experience. I’ve learned an awful lot by watching expert master coaches that are half my age. I’m just amazed every time I go there because it really is all put on by, and all run by primarily people in their 20s and 30s. And I’m the kid. I’m the new guy, even though I’m old enough to be their father. I learn just like all those other little kids down there every time I go. So it’s a terrific coaching experience, learning more really about the fine tuning of the form and the equipment itself. The Olympic bow has a lot of moving parts and I still don’t have them all straight. One thing I really like about the traditional bow is…it’s a bow. There’s no shelf. There’s a handle and there’s two pieces of wood sticking out of it. The other nice thing about that is, if I take my bow down there and I shoot it, if I do lousy I’ve got an excuse.
How did archery get started at John Muir?
Coach Stevens: Some of my students in my class asked what I liked to do in my spare time and I said, “well archery is one of the things I like to do” and they said oh man we’d love to do that! This was last year. This was Maureen, Julia, Matthew and Stefan as well as a few other kids [Maureen, Julia, Matthew and Stefan were part of the team last year that competed at State Champs]. They said, why don’t you teach us, why don’t you show us. And I was thinking nahhh that’s gotta be hard to do, to bring a sharp pointy object onto school, but I thought, maybe there was a program out there. So I started digging around and through the website I think that I found out about you. You guys were terrifically generous and helpful. You trained me as a coach and I learned an Olympic style and found out I didn’t know anything about archery, but I’m certainly willing to learn as much as I can and I started teaching these kids thanks to the Easton Foundations Program.
What kind of impact has archery had on the students and school?
Coach Stevens: It’s had a terrific impact on our school in particular. Certainly in general it’s had a great impact because it’s a sport, something for kids to do that who wouldn’t like to do other sports. But our school doesn’t have any other sports. We’re small, we have a very small budget, so we can’t do a lot of things. Archery kind of fits into this little niche. It fits our school and you know, we kind of have niche kids at our particular school. Now this program would work in any school, big or small. Since we have kindergarten all the way to 12th grade, I have kids, little tiny kids, little babies that can’t wait to be old enough so they can try this, so they can get into the archery club.
There’s a culture developing at our school, that’s unique in our school’s history. In our school’s 40 some odd years history there’s never been a sport at our school, just been too small and not enough money for it, and now there is and the best part about it is kids who weren’t necessarily great at academics, who didn’t necessarily think they were good at anything, have found out they are good at something. Not only are they good at sports, kids who weren’t focusing well, are learning how to focus, learning how to become more precise not just on the target but also in a classroom. They’re learning some character traits that they didn’t necessarily have before, or at least weren’t evident.
[One of my students is a perfect example]. Great guy, love the guy, really smart, but always kind of an average academic student. Not that he doesn’t have the potential to be straight A. He does, he just wasn’t quite interested, wasn’t sure if there was anything he loved enough to work hard enough for. Then he tried this thing out, this archery thing just March of this year. He was walking out on to the field and watching me and Maurine and Julia and Matthew and a few other people, practicing and he said you know I wouldn’t mind trying that. So I went to look at his citizenship grades, they were okay, his academic grades were alright. I said okay, sure, give it a try and within probably three weeks, he was out shooting everybody our little group. And he found out, like a lot of kids I’m sure do, that he’s really good at this. He’s got a great eye for it, got a natural talent for it and he’s found out that he is as good as anybody, and better than a lot, in this particular sport. It’s made him feel really good about himself. Just this year I gave recommendations to probably half a dozen colleges for him and it was because of this program.
Since you offer archery as a part of school, do you see students in class as well as during archery practice and how has that affected your rapport with students?
Coach Stevens: Oh you bet. Everyone from 7th grade on up, I see them every day and then I do see them twice a day when we have archery club on Mondays. I see many of them, not all of them, in the morning, the ones who can get here at 8:00am and whose parents can drop them off early. They’re here, and I’m here to make sure that they have that opportunity to get out there and practice. It has created a closer affiliation with the students, from student to teacher. I mean this school itself is kind of unique because it is small, and we know all of the kids so we’re already pretty close, it’s a family.
But this creates a culture because the kids who are in archery are also in all the classes. So it has an effect on everybody, has an effect on the other students in their class as well as the entire staff. It’s becoming something that we’re starting to define our school by. It’s become something that we want to advertise, to say look, this is what we are, this is what we do. We’re a little different from football or basketball, and you can do that in other places, and we may not be big enough to do all that but we can do this, and we can do it well. And if this is the niche for you, then we can offer it. So it’s become an advertising point and it’s beginning to identify the school culture.
And these awards, the ribbons and medals…I’ve given lots of them for lots of different topics and subjects and things. You know we can go to any trophy store and we can buy stuff and buy them online…but it’s special…it’s special to the kid who’s getting it. It means something because it’s symbolic of the work and the effort and the pain and the joy that they’ve put into that accomplishment. So it’s more than just a little trophy or the medal or even the pins….kids can’t wait to get those pins!…because it symbolizes an accomplishment, and they’ll help to identify that kid. That kid will find an identity in it. And when these kids walk around tomorrow wearing those medals, and they will!…I mean after our state competition, our archers wore those for two weeks they did!…and these kids you know today, just from the mail in tournament that’s a great deal. I know there’s probably not as many people in it as you’re gonna expect to be in it in a year or two, there’s probably going to be quite a few more.. .but anyway, everybody else in this school sees those medals and that gives them something to aspire to. That creates a culture of heroes, where we didn’t have any before. This program has done an awful lot for our school, a lot of things that I won’t even think of until years and years and year have gone by.
At the State Championships last year, John Muir was the newcomer on the scene and yet the team was very successful. What was the catalysis for that growth and drive?
Coach Stevens: Really it was the kids who were driving it. It wasn’t me. I had enough to do. I was happy with the traditional archery thing, and I was happy doing the NTS archery in OAS. I didn’t think that we were gonna be ready to go to any sort of competition after only a couple of months doing this. I remember sitting down with my principal and she’s asking me, are you going to take these kids to this tournament? And I remember telling her, I said, you know they really want to go, but I don’t want them to be disappointed. So I’m really divided, whether I want to take them or not. And she said, you know, you ought to take them just for the experience. Think about it, let me know what you think. So I talked to the students who were involved in it and they just were gung ho. They said let’s go to LA. Let’s do this! We’re willing to work. They showed up every morning at 8:00am before school for about a month. The ones who didn’t graduate are still showing up every morning at 8:00am so that they can practice.
That small dedicated group, who found this love for a sport that they didn’t know was in them, they went to LA and they took it. Just took it. They didn’t go up there for any reason except just to compete. Just to show everyone else this is what they can do. And if it’s good enough, we’ll win…and it was good enough. They also met a whole bunch of really neat kids who were there for the same reasons. You know I met a lot of other coaches, and I learned a terrific amount just by watching these other coaches, in particular the gentleman there at Glendale, Steve Holmoe. He showed terrific grace and hospitality while we were there and I will not forget that.
Our program is aimed at developing pathways to other programs and also raising awareness of the many opportunities Olympic-style Archery offers students. Does this make an impact with students?
Coach Stevens: In our brief experience, the students involved in archery who have graduated or are graduating, they leave the school with the intent of finding archery programs or establishing them in the colleges that they go to or the communities they go to. I’ve talked to them…they come back, Maurine, and Julia, and Matthew
they’ve all been back, and a matter of fact we’re planning on meeting in Balboa Park to go shoot some archery because it has established a love that they’re going to have their entire life. And again, you know, there’s a meditative aspect as well. There’s so much I could say about it. It’s a sport. It’s a meditation. It’s a skill. Like… one of the Greek philosopher’s talk about furniture, but I’m going to use archery….the perfect archery form is in heaven, right? And that’s where it’s going to stay. None of us are going to get there, but we spend our entire lives trying to replicate, trying to build the perfect form, trying to find the right mix of bow and the best match of arrows and I think these kids who leave this program are going to go into life with this lifelong pursuit of this perfection. We’ll never meet that perfection, but perhaps there’ll be moments when we do, and those are sweet, sweet moments that they would never have experienced had they not started out right here.
Like many of our other OAS schools, John Muir’s story inspires us, especially considering the challenging times we live in for education. In California alone we have seen a reduction of more than 25% in school funding which equates to a loss of more than $500 million in funding (“District Budget.” San Diego Unified School District Website.). This has resulted in programs being cut, limits on teacher’s time, and much more. Yet schools and coaches like John Muir and Coach Vince realize the value of extra-curricular activities and are making them available to their students, more often than not on their own time. As evident at John Muir, the fruit of these efforts has far reaching affects into the lives of their students and their school.
Keaton Chia is the OAS Program Supervisor and Conference Leader for the San Diego Region. For more information on OAS you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org | 510.303.6402