Steve Woitaszewski, Prairie Bowman Archery Club youth coordinator, speaks to a youth archer as she draws back her bow, helping her with her form.
Prairie Bowman Archery Club youth coordinator Steve Woitaszewski helps a youth archer with her form on April 15, 2023, during the first class of the season.

When Steve Woitaszewski was a senior in high school and bought his first bow — his father was not impressed.

“What did you buy that thing for,” Woitaszewski recalled his father saying. “You’ll never use it.”

Now, having pursued archery for the last 55 years, Woitaszewski can be found often at Lincoln’s Prairie Bowman Archery Club range, where he helps mentor younger archers in his role as youth coordinator.

For Woitaszewski, 72, the special appeal of archery is its permanence. The basic form, stance and rhythm of shooting can all be picked up in 10 minutes, but the game can be played for life and at all levels of physical ability. The Prairie Bowman club, 1432 N. Cotner Boulevard, is the oldest and only archery club in Lincoln, still going strong since its founding in1954.

“That’s the thing about archery,” Woitaszewski said. “Any physical handicap we can work around.”

According to Woitaszewski, the Lincoln archery club was even close to starting a class at one point for blind archers, before the instructor moved.

At the first class for new and youth archers on  April 15, eight-year-old children shot on one side of the range with their parents watching on, while adults became acquainted with the basics of the sport at the far end of the range.

“What’s nice about archery is that it’s a lifelong sport. You get older, you can’t really play basketball or softball,” Woitaszewski said. “But you can usually shoot a bow and arrow.” 

But learning archery has challenges, according to Woitaszewski. For younger archers, coordination, strength and attention can be a big issue. For older people, physical physical capabilities can create limits.

Bernie Sidowski said he became a member of the Prairie Bowman Archery Club in 2021 for his daughter, Layla, who shoots a bow for Park Middle School. Bernie Sidowski enjoyed archery but hurt his shoulder working. He said he decided to take classes at club after Layla wanted to see him shoot. Despite his injured shoulder, he switched from a recurve to a compound bow and now enjoys the experience of archery with his daughter. 

Layla said her favorite part of the classes is the learning experience.

“She gets on a rush and likes to shoot the arrows fast,” Bernie Sidowski said.

For a number of youth archers at the club, the aim is competitive play, where the club offers a number of certified coaches, including Woitaszewski. According to club member John Hay, who was at the Tuesday event to watch his daughter, Liatris, shoot, the most important thing for developing youth archers is proper form.

“These kids are getting taught form,” he said. “They’re not really worried about where the arrows hit as long as they’re hitting the target. “Why I like to get my kids involved, and what I think is important, is that archery can be a lifetime sport. I think it’s important for people to have things they can do beyond school.”

Liatris Hay, who started shooting as soon as she was old enough for the club at eight, was inspired to start by her father and started two years ago. Her ambition is to go hunting one day, and she sometimes works with “3D” targets, which are in the shape of animals.

“Everybody is fighting their own bad habits and tendencies,” John Hay said. “We all fight that for years and our whole lives. That’s the big thing, is just trying to refine that form, and trying to do the same thing every time. You’re trying to do the same thing every time, and that’s where it gets real tricky.”

John Hay said his bad habits include problems in his release and “target panic,” a psychological anxiety that results in bad shots.

Woitaszewski said he is quick to shield children from the pressures associated with competitive play unless they are committed. For many in the club, it is not competitive, but nevertheless a lifelong craft.

“I feel I’m just getting the kids and the adults into archery to see if they love the sport,” Woitaszewski said. “I help them out to be the best shooter they want to be.”