Greg Drossel, a naturalist who last fall began giving a popular archery course at the Ross School, and who is soon to give the same course to adults as part of Ross’s continuing education program, said the other day that his love for the sport grew hand in hand with his love of the outdoors.
“I grew up in the Stony Brook-Port Jefferson area and as a kid I roamed the woods with an uncle of mine who was five years older. After a rainstorm we’d find white quartz arrowheads from an old Native American settlement. Guess what we did with them?”
“Exactly!” said the enthusiastic educator (he’s Ross’s assistant dean of students, recently returned from having taken 20 students to the Galapagos Islands). “I don’t have a one left, they’re all in the woods by my grandmother’s house. . . . I found a couple of fishing arrowheads too. I tried them out on some carp at Stony Brook’s Mill Pond, without success.”
One gathers from talking with this lifelong archer — and Holtsville Hal’s handler — that the sport could well serve as a metaphor for a successful life, assuming one’s preparation, focus, and aim were true.
On that very subject, Jodie Foster said in her Class Day speech at Yale University in 1993: “I put all my stuff — my history, my experiences, my passions and taboos and personal weaknesses and unconscious agendas and eccentricities — delicately and precisely on the tip of a proverbial arrow. I take careful aim, keep the target in my sight and try to communicate all that is me in a straight line towards an audience.”
“The Hunger Games,” the post-apocalyptic novel and film in which a 16-year-old, Katniss Everdeen, is the heroine, has also served to stir up interest, ventured Carey London, the school’s communications coordinator, who had stopped by during the interview. “It’s empowering!” she said by way of explanation.
Drossel began teaching archery as a wellness elective in Ross’s gymnasium in September.
“I tried to do it three years ago, but it never got off the ground. It did this time because the mother of a student who had been told by a camp counselor that her daughter had the makings of an Olympic archer made a generous gift so we could offer a National Archery in the Schools Program here.”
Her gift had provided the seed money, and soon the needed $5,000 for the requisite equipment was raised to teach Ross’s high school students. A promised New York Department of Environmental Conservation donation and further sponsorships may enable Drossel to extend the course to the lower school next year.
The high school students took to the discipline quickly. “The kids don’t even see any equipment for the first two days because I’m going over with them the 11 steps of safe shooting,” Drossel said. “This program has been in schools all over the country for the past 10 years, and there’s never been an accident in all that time. I can’t tell you how safe this sport is. And anybody can excel in it — you don’t have to be the biggest or the toughest kid. Each kid can grow at his own pace. . . . Our best archer could be a fourth grader.”
“We use a compound bow with cams and pulleys that enable you to adjust the tension, the draw weight,” he continued. “This one I’ve got here,” he said, holding one of the smallish bows up, “is maxed out at 20 to 25 pounds, so it’s easy to pull and hold.”
“Developing the proper form is more important than hitting the bull’s-eye,” he continued. “There are so many variables — you want to establish consistency. So, after two days of simulating with knotted nonstretchable strings that span the distance between the students’ extended bow hands and the anchor points — where the index fingers of their draw hands are at the corners of their mouths — they get to shoot at targets [10 to 15 meters away].”
Once the anchor point was reached and aim taken, “all your energy,” he said, “is then transferred to the arrow and its release. . . . The big thing is to be relaxed and poised, and to follow through, at which point you can reflect on your shot.”
He controls the action with a whistle he wears around his neck, the number of blasts keyed to specific commands. A certified N.A.S.P. instructor himself, he has seen to it that eight other Ross faculty members have become certified too.
Archery, he said, was “a very relaxing, a very reflective activity.” And while there were competitions at the high school level — not to mention the Olympics — “you don’t need to be competitive to enjoy it.”
He hopes, though, that Ross can play host to the state high school archery tournament next year.
Back to Holtsville Hal, Drossel said, “Punxsutawney Phil was wrong and Holtsville Hal,” with whom he can be seen posing in a photo on his office wall, “was right! We’ve had six more weeks of winter.” Drossel has in years past lectured widely on nature, whose intricacies interest him far more than the kill that may or may not attend a deer hunt.
“It’s an old German tradition — Candlemas. On Feb. 2, the groundhog or woodchuck comes out of his hole, to seek a mate really. If he sees his shadow, it’s supposed to mean six more weeks of winter. Holtsville Hal saw his, but Phil, who drew a crowd of 40,000, didn’t.”