words: Marla Cantrell
Images: courtesy Stacy Mitchum
When Stacy Mitchum was a girl, she stayed home while her father and uncle traveled to Africa and Australia and Alaska to hunt. After she married, her husband Donnie hunted alone because Stacy never considered going. Still, the two worked hard to find other things to do together. They played softball, and their dream was to have their three kids on a team with them. “We finally made it,” Stacy says. “We finally accomplished it one summer when the entire infield was Mitchums.
“But your knees wear out, and you have to try something else,” Stacy says, and then grins. “And the kids grew up.”
So they dabbled in golf. But they were not golfers. And then one day four years ago, Donnie couldn’t take being in the woods without Stacy any longer. He was part of a hunting lease in Oklahoma that was bow-only. “He said, ‘If you’re going to spend any time with me, you’re going to have to learn how to shoot a bow.’ And I said, ‘I’ll go with you, but I’m not going to shoot.’”
There was another man on the lease with Donnie, and he brought his wife, Shasta, along, and Shasta shot a bow. “She told me she’d teach me. Donnie bought me a bow and put it in my hand and said, ‘Shoot it.’ I still didn’t want to, but I did it. After that, Shasta took over, teaching me how to shoot.”
Not long after that first hunt, Shasta’s husband invited Donnie and Stacy to a 3-D bow shooting tournament. (3-D means the targets are foam replicas of the animals you’d hunt, instead of flat targets with a bull’s eye in the middle.) That was all it took. There was something about the competition and the camaraderie; everyone seemed to like everyone else. “I was hooked,” Stacy says. “Now I’m dragging Donnie everywhere so I can shoot my bow. I think he’s really proud of me.”
Stacy smiles as she tells the story. The irony is not lost on her. This quest her husband took her on, out in the woods of Oklahoma, was so that she could spend more time with him and learn to shoot a bow. What he couldn’t have known at the time was how much Stacy would love the sport, and how much of their life it would encapsulate.
Eventually, the two became the managers of Gellco Outdoors archery range, which is on land where as many as 100 shooters at a time show up to compete. They are also the leaders of the River Valley Bowhunters’ group. Stacy is on the shooting staff of six organizations, including Shoot Like a Girl, Inc. And, she’s become a certified instructor for the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) .
The NASP is near and dear to her heart. Stacy loves her job teaching third graders at Charleston Elementary, she’s devoted to all the students in the system. Charleston, Arkansas is a small town in Franklin County, population approximately 2,500, where most everybody knows everybody else. Many of the students had parents and grandparents who went to the same school. In fact, Stacy teaches in the very room where her husband sat when he was a student there.
It wasn’t long after she fell in love with archery that she began campaigning to bring it to Charleston. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission offers grants for schools wanting to participate. They even designate the money they collect from fines (for instance, from someone who’s caught fishing without a license) for the program, divide it by the county where the offense took place and offer it to the schools. There are 550 Arkansas schools, which include 57,000 students, currently participating. The Game and Fish Commission sets up regional and state tournaments and offers scholarship money as prizes.
With that information in hand, Stacy approached those in charge. “I was like the squeaky wheel, talking and talking because I believed in it so much,” she says. “I knew how much this program would help the school. We needed to raise some money to match the grant, and once that was done, we were set.”
Last year, during the second semester, the Archery in the Schools program began at Charleston, for those in third through eighth grades, which includes 350 students. (The total school population is nearly 900.) It’s taught as part of the P.E. curriculum by Stacy and two of the coaches, inside the elementary gym where they’ve set up all the needed safety precautions.
Stacy believes it’s doing exactly what she hoped it would. “It helps with hand-eye coordination, and with concentration. But it also builds self-esteem. Kids hit that target and their eyes light up. It’s even helped with discipline because they know if they don’t behave they won’t be able to participate. And we’re always looking for ways for kids to succeed because the more they succeed, the more they’ll like school. And the more they like school, the better they’ll do. So it’s all connected.
“The first day of school this year I had kids come up and ask, ‘When do we get to shoot?’ And this summer at a camp I helped with, I had a boy ask, ‘If I brought you money from my piggy bank would you come back every day?’
“And think about how long they can do it. We gave up softball because it was too hard after you get a certain age. But at forty-two I started this sport, and I plan to do it for a really long time. At the shooting range, I’ve seen kids as young as three and those as old as eighty. As long as you can pull your bow back, you can do this. There’s a perception that women only shoot with bows designed for them. Often, they’re the pink ones. But I started with a child’s bow, moved up to a woman’s, and now I shoot a man’s bow.”
The sport also helps those who don’t have an affinity for football or basketball or baseball, and wouldn’t participate in sports without this program.
Stacy says plans are underway to expand. She wants an after-school club of archers. Additionally, she’d like for the Charleston students to start competing in the competitions. That’s where she sees those deeper connections starting since students will meet kids they would never have known otherwise. That’s exactly what happened when Stacy started competing.
“There are five of us women who train together and shoot together,” she says. “Four of us are from Arkansas, and one of us is from Mississippi. At the National Championships, we got to shoot together, and we ended the year ranked one through five. In the last twelve months, I’ve been to tournaments in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and Kentucky. These people become like family. If I had one regret it would be that I didn’t start sooner,” she says.
The kids in Charleston’s program won’t have the same regret because Stacy is making sure they get an early start. When she thinks about her contribution, she feels honored she was able to help. Being part of something that builds confidence is wonderful, she says. Being able to teach it to the kids she cares so much about is one of the great joys of her life.