Young Milford archers hit mark at nationals

The West Shore Middle School Archery Club members representing the school at last weekend’s Eastern National Championships are, left to right, Jacob LeClaire, Yusuf Genc, David Hancock, and Santiago Penagos. Club advisors David Zunski and Marcus Blair are pictured behind the archers.

The West Shore Middle School Archery Club members representing the school at last weekend’s Eastern National Championships are, left to right, Jacob LeClaire, Yusuf Genc, David Hancock, and Santiago Penagos. Club advisors David Zunski and Marcus Blair are pictured behind the archers.

Contributed photo

MILFORD — A team of young archers proved to be on the mark this year.

The West Shore Middle School archery team, under the guidance of longtime coach David Zunski, were the top ranked team in the state and earned a place at the Eastern National Championships in Louisville, Ky., last weekend. The four archers are part of the 80-member team.

“Nobody anticipated this,” Zunski said about the nationals’ nod. “These kids really come here for a good time, to get better. We have never entered the national competition before. I entered the scores on a lark, at the last minute. Then we got the invite. It was incredible for these kids.”

The West Shore archers able to attend nationals were David Hancock, Jacob LeClaire, Yusuf Genc, and Santiago Penagos.

“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” said Penagos, an eighth grader and the team’s top-ranked archer, about competing in nationals. “When I started with the archery club here three years ago, I never would’ve believed we’d be competing at this level. It’s awesome.”

Zunski, a school psychologist and longtime hunter, first started the club in 2007. That was when he learned about the National Archery in the Schools (NASP) program and wondered if it might be something to try at West Shore.

After some quick research, Zunski was able to procure the proper certifications and required equipment and got the club “up and running” in short order. Student interest was robust, he said, and the archery club has continued to grow over the years.

The impact of the club is long-lasting, as evidenced by the volunteerism of one of the original student club members, Marcus Blair.

Blair, an archery expert in his own right today, has volunteered his time to the group for the past 14 years.

“When I was younger, I found that the tenets of archery — staying focused, concentration, and clearing your mind — really helped me, especially at times when I was stressed or anxious,” Blair said. “I’m sure it has helped me in many parts of my life. And that’s why I like to continue helping out the team now. It’s great.”

Zunski added that practice is essential in getting better in the sport.

“Consistency is crucial. And like anything else, the more you practice, the better you get at it,” he said. “We are excited by the new phase of competition for our students and look forward to growing the archery program not only in Milford but across the state.”

Zunski said the archery club is the largest club in the school and one of the few in the state. There are so many members that he breaks the group into two, with each group practicing separately for three weeks. The archers use coiled spring bows, which he says allows them to adjust their arms and technique without a heavy bow in their hands.

“By the end of the year, the kids show vast, vast improvement,” Zunski added. “I am so proud of these kids. It was such a great feeling to be able to tell them they made the national competition.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com