NORWOOD – A sign on the door of the BayState Archers Training Center on a recent Monday morning read “closed,” yet 11 “elite” team members were gathered at the range to start their four hours of weekly training.
“Everybody line up!” Michael Allen, a coach, commanded.
Quickly, everyone gathered their quivers and drew an arrow.
“This is my calm place,” Allen said.
Allen, who owns the Norwood training facility, said archery is enjoying a comeback in the region. Some people tried archery once or twice as elementary students at summer camp or in school physical education class and that was that, but adults are choosing the sport as a regular activity or casual hobby.
Those passionate about archery call it a mental game, and Allen said he even has clients who’ve used it to help children with autism work on focus.
Emily Polcaro, 15, of Boston, found that archery is something she loves to do. She practiced for four hours each Monday and took a regular class on weekends at BayState. She joined the elite team last November.
“Archery is not like the other sports. It’s more mental. It’s all you, ”she said.
The Sports & Fitness Industry Association estimates that 7.3 million Americans participated in archery in 2021.
Archer Dayenne Walters said everyone is friendly.
“I find a supportive community here,” Walters said.
Walters went to an archery range 20 years ago, looking for inspiration for an art project, she said.
“I was thinking of old-fashioned, Robin Hood kind of bows,” Walters recalled.
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Instead, archery became a part of her life.
“It’s very meditative,” Walters said. “You have to try it. It’s something satisfying when you hear that arrow flying off. You can see it leaving your bow and watch it sail until it hits the middle of the target.”
Bringing people together
Allen first tried archery at a New Hampshire summer camp as a child. He worked at the camp as an archery instructor through the 1980s, then left the sport.
In 2000, he saw a billboard for a recently opened archery club in Dedham owned by a man named Anthony Bellettini, who provided a simple, no-frills range for local enthusiasts to drop in and practice.
Allen stopped by Bellettini’s range looking to buy a bow so he could pick up his old sport, a commitment Bellettini discouraged him from making right away.
“Growing up, I hated people telling me I’m not capable of doing something. To me, it was the deepest insult, ”Allen said. “I just looked at him and said, ‘I’m buying two bows.’ “
Allen bought the second bow for his brother, Keith, and the two started practicing regularly at Bellettini’s range. Gradually, they began volunteering to help keep the range running. The range moved to Norwood and became the BayState Archery Center.
“Anthony had this skill of bringing people together,” Michael Allen recalled of his friend.
Bellettini died in February 2019. Keith Allen said he knew if he and his brother didn’t step up, the regular archers would lose a place they had come to love.
The Allen brothers opened the range in April 2019 with help and donations from customers. They inherited the style and rules from Bellettini, and even put Bellettini’s photos near the entrance. Music from the 1980s plays over the speakers.
A slow recovery
The BayState Archers Training Center took a massive hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, its owners said. The range moved into a new, larger facility just weeks before the pandemic hit and the number of customers plummeted.
Keith Allen was diagnosed with COVID-19 relatively early on, and was put on a respirator at a local hospital. Michael Allen worried about his brother while juggling a full-time job and trying to keep the range afloat.
BayState still enforces strict COVID-19 protocols – archers must mask up, surfaces are wiped down between each use and there are plastic barriers between archers – but customers old and new returned to shoot again last year.
The range can serve up to 13 customers at a time, and Allen estimated 100 people come in to shoot each week, either for a class or just to practice. Despite some recovery, the range is barely breaking even, Michael Allen said.
He explained that archery ranges require a lot of space to make a profit, and New England rents are high.
It costs $ 15 for the first hour at BayState and $ 5 for each additional 30 minutes after that. Renting equipment costs an additional $ 5. The range also hosts summer classes for students.
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Reach Hongyu Liu at HLiu@patriotledger.com.