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DCIS students participating in archery.

For an hour, this was the scene of JROTC’s first day of archery practice this semester. The students smiled, excitedly swapped stories and received continuous instruction from the equally absorbed pair of L’Elie and Morales. After studying archery procedures and practices in the classroom, the group relished putting those skills into action. 

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Three sharp electronic whistle tones ring off the gymnasium walls as students clad in JROTC-issued Army Combat Uniforms retrieve bows and a handful of arrows each from center court. The students, who attend Darlington County Intervention School (DCIS), approach a taped line at the opposite end of the floor and face ahead toward mounted targets. 

Command Sgt. Maj. David L’Elie issues several lines of instruction. Purposefully, the students set their arrows perpendicular to their bows, slowly draw and release on command. Some arrows strike with force the bullseye of large, square targets coupled with an echoing “snap”. Others strike not quite so accurately. Cheers (or excited grumbles) follow from L’Elie, his students and Victor Morales, former Army-turned-teacher assistant.

DCIS students participating in archery.

For an hour, this was the scene of JROTC’s first day of archery practice this semester. The students smiled, excitedly swapped stories and received continuous instruction from the equally absorbed pair of L’Elie and Morales. After studying archery procedures and practices in the classroom, the group relished putting those skills into action. 

The archery program, stitched into the JROTC program fabric at DCIS, is entering its second semester at the school. Seeking an appealing extracurricular for his students, L’Elie attended a summer training exercise at Fort Liberty in North Carolina last year, earning a Basic Archery Instructor certification through the National Archery in Schools Program.

“I just wanted to expose them to something new, something different,” L’Elie said. “As it turned out, some of these kids are natural-born archers. It went awesome during our first semester; the kids had a blast. And they are becoming aware now that there are scholarship opportunities out there.”

L’Elie, currently the school’s Teacher of the Year, said the archery program is treated similarly to any other extracurricular program.

“The majority of the kids participating are really enjoying it. They’re always asking about it,” he said. “But my goal, and I talk to them and their other teachers, is to keep up with their classes, grades and behavior elsewhere. Our focus is always on their education.”

DCIS students participating in archery.

The archery program requires in-class instruction, too. There are about 12 hours of classroom learning. The students study vocabulary, safety, how to stand, how to draw, and other particulars of an archery regimen.

“This is not ‘just grab a bow and go at it’,” L’Elie said. “There is a lesson plan. There is a quiz.”

Current and former members of a JROTC program understand this structure well. There is a goal, a process of preparation and a specific methodology to achieve.

Sure, but it’s also fun.

Kieron Blackwell is a junior at DCIS in his third year of JROTC. His early experiences with the new archery program are positive.

“When you come here, you get a change of pace,” he said. “It’s all around more fun and engaging. Even if you don’t know (how to use the bow and arrow), they will teach you. All you really have to do is listen.”

Minutes earlier, Blackwell’s arrows had landed exclusively in and around the bullseye. Asked whether he might have a knack for the sport, he smiled.

“Based on my grouping, I think I am. That’s pretty good for a beginner.”

Trent Windham, a freshman in the group, has experience outside of school with hunting and some familiarity with archery.

“Once you get used to it and learn how to do it, it’s really fun,” he said. “(L’Elie and Morales) help us a lot.”

Windham is one of a handful of the DCIS archery students planning to participate in upcoming local NASP competitions. The first one will be in Elgin this weekend. Indeed, though the program is still finding roots at DCIS, L’Elie already has his sights set on expanding.

DCIS students participating in archery.

“My goal in the next couple of years is to take several of the students to the U.S. Eastern National Championship in Louisville, Kentucky,” he said. “Maybe we’ll be able to take a few of those to the world competition in Myrtle Beach (in 2025).”

Asked whether she had considered pursuing archery outside of class and possibly competing, freshman Jamiyah Bull thought to herself and laughed.

“I’m not too sure yet. I’m just getting the hang of it,” she said. “But I think everyone should join. I’m having fun with it. They’re really nice people; you can tell they think of us like a family.”

Dozens of competitions are held across South Carolina each year, and the prospect seems exciting. For now, the program is growing and finding success while remaining focused on grades, attendance and discipline.

After each wave of newly-minted archers complete their practice and score their shots alongside a squad mate, they return their arrows to a floor-mounted quiver and hang their bows on a large, rolling rack. L’Elie raises his electronic whistle above his head, delivering a couple of piercing beeps. The students return to their seats.

For L’Elie and Morales, who is also a former DCIS Teacher of the Year, this experience is about providing opportunities to engage their students in a school setting and guide them toward a pathway for success after high school.

“This is about accomplishing something they have never done,” Morales said. “To learn a process and become successful. That’s what we want for them.”

DCIS students participating in archery.
DCIS students participating in archery.
DCIS students participating in archery.