An interesting look at the sports event industry in Greater Raleigh, N.C.

USA Archery 2018 JOAD National Target Championships

WRAL Soccer Park proved to be a perfect fit for outdoor target archery
Photo credit: USA Archery

WRAL Soccer Park on target as archery host

The competitors at WRAL Soccer Park felt like rock stars from the moment they arrived in town.

But these young athletes inhabiting the fields from July 10-15 were not soccer players, as any driver on Perry Creek Rd. recently could attest. No soccer balls flew at the complex. Instead, a different sort of flying object took center stage.

USA Archery was in town, hosting its Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) National Target Championships, and marking the first time Raleigh had ever hosted a major national archery event.

The fields provided a level setting for the competitors, who shoot at targets between 25 and 70 meters away depending on age. Whether they compete in the barebow, compound or Olympic recurve divisions, the goal is the same: hit the bullseye as often as possible.

Away from the competition fields, athletes and their families got a taste of life in Greater Raleigh. The Adams family from Cincinnati gave Goodberry’s a thumbs up, and barebow competitor Charlotte Adams, 15, enjoyed the welcoming feeling upon arrival at the Hilton Garden Inn at Triangle Town Center.

“You walk in and see the big welcome sign, and Charlotte feels like a rock star,” said Brian Adams, her father. “It was obvious they wanted us to be here. It was very inviting.”

USA Archery 2018 JOAD National Target Championships - Fresh Ice cream

Decorated U.S. archers Andre Shelby, Mackenzie Brown and Reo Wilde enjoy Archery Blast ice cream
Photo credit: USA Archery

Raleigh and Cary's FRESH. Local Ice Cream furthered that feeling by creating a custom flavor, about 300 scoops' worth, for the event. Archery Blast—raspberry ice cream with blueberry puree and white chocolate chips—offered a red-white-and-blue theme that seemed to be a favorite among competitors and spectators alike.

Tough to put down the bow

Red, white and blue were colors seen often at the fields, as some of the approximately 800 athletes have dreams of making the U.S. Olympic team. And the field was not solely American—nine other countries, including Canada and Colombia, were represented in Raleigh.

USA Archery 2018 JOAD National Target Championships - Recurve Bows

Archers from throughout the U.S. and around the world traveled to Raleigh to compete
Photo credit: USA Archery

Hoping for a spot on an international stage is one reason to love the sport, but it’s not the only one. Why do the competitors love archery? Well, it’s different than other sports they’ve tried, for one. Casey Kaufhold, a highly ranked 14-year-old from Lancaster, Pa., says she chose to focus on archery after competing in basketball, gymnastics, dance and swimming.

“I fell in love with the sport too much to let it go,” Kaufhold said.

Guy Hutcherson has seen other young competitors fall similarly hard for archery. Hutcherson runs a club in Rockingham County and is USA Archery’s state representative for North Carolina. His son, now 21, competed in tournaments for years, starting around age six.

“I’ve had parents tell me, ‘I couldn’t get my kid up off the couch to do anything. All they want to do is play computer games,’” Hutcherson said. “Put a bow in their hand, and now they won’t come back in from outside because they’re shooting.”

The sport got a boost when The Hunger Games movie was released in 2012. Kaufhold, who won the junior division in the recurve category in Raleigh, has been competing since she was eight years old. She noticed the sport became “more crowded” after girls identified with Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Katniss Everdeen, displaying marksmanship with a bow and arrow.

The competitors enjoy archery’s accountability and simplicity.

“Nobody else controls what you do,” Hutcherson said. “It’s extremely disciplined.”

Tyler Thomas, a 12-year-old from Fargo, N.D., began shooting after seeing his older sister, Kinzie, take up archery. Tyler plays baseball and football but says archery is his favorite. That’s why Mandy Thomas, Kinzie and Tyler’s mom didn’t mind making the 22-hour drive for the tournament.

Adams, the 15-year-old from Ohio, runs cross country for her high school team and spends 15 to 20 hours a week on archery practice. Calling the sport “a fun part of me,” she relishes archery’s individual focus.

“I don’t like having to blame other people for failure,” she said. “It’s simpler for me to know that I have made mistakes, and they’re my mistakes, and they’re something I can fix.”

Adams generally excels. A year ago, she broke the 14- and 17-and-under scoring records at the national indoor championships in Mankato, Minn., earning a mention in Sports Illustrated.

Kaufhold, who at 13 broke scoring records for all ages earlier this year at the national indoor championships, loves the different feel she gets from archery. She was around three when her parents first put a bow in her hand.

USA Archery 2018 JOAD National Target Championships - Casey Kaufhold

As one of the top ranked U.S. female archers, Casey Kaufhold's goal is the 2020 Olympics
Photo credit: USA Archery

“You get on the line,” she said, “and it’s all just there for you.”

Then, when classmates hear about her success but aren’t exactly sure what it means, they ask, “You do the same thing Katniss did in the Hunger Games?”

A return to Raleigh

WRAL Soccer Park hosted archery for the first time, but it won’t be the last.

“Thank you to the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, WRAL Soccer Park and everyone in Raleigh who so warmly welcomed us for the 2018 JOAD Nationals,” USA Archery CEO Rod Menzer said. “We could not have asked for a more perfect event venue, and our athletes, coaches, families and fans enjoyed ideal conditions for archery competition and exploring the area. We look forward to returning for this event again next year.”

Officially, the 2019 return was announced last week. That’s good news to Bryan Bachelder, the tournament and facility events director for North Carolina FC Youth, which owns and operates WRAL Soccer Park.

“It’s a unique experience, because you get to see how different professionals run their events,” Bachelder said. “With the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance going out and looking to host as many events as it can to show off the city of Raleigh and everything it has to offer, it’s great to work with them on these types of events.”

Jason Philbeck, assistant director of the GRSA, said that discussions began in 2016 with officials from USA Archery about hosting the event. WRAL Soccer Park seemed like an ideal setting for the outdoor target championships.

The facility “offers a perfect setup, with plenty of field space and tons of parking and amenities for the participants and families,” Philbeck said. “We were extremely excited when USA Archery selected Raleigh for the 2018 event and we knew it would be a tremendous opportunity to showcase archery for the first time at the venue.”

And now one event will turn into two, as Raleigh aims to become a target destination for America’s best archers.

USA Archery 2018 JOAD National Target Championships

USA Archery CEO Rod Menzer announced the national event would return to Raleigh in 2019
Photo credit: USA Archery

Results: USA Archery Crowns JOAD National Champions